Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Extracts 101: Vanilla, Mint, Lemon, Almond

This fall was a busy one for me. I started grad school and by the end of September, I was buried under a mountain of research, homework, and paper writing. I cooked a little, but nothing terribly exciting: a pretty constant rotation of tomato soup, The Best French Bread Ever, and arugula salads.




So. If you're going to start one DIY project when you're pressed for time, this is the one. Minimal ingredients, minimal preparation time, maximum reward. I made these babies in October and bottled them for Christmas gifts.

And winter is the best time for a project like this, because there's little guilt (for me) involved in using non-local, non-seasonal ingredients (like vanilla beans) during the winter, when there are so few local, seasonal ingredients to be had.

Vanilla Extract 
8 vanilla beans
Slightly less than 1 liter of vodka, at least 80 proof

Split vanilla beans lengthwise, so that the "vanilla caviar" inside is visible. Place the beans in a 1-liter Mason jar. Fill with vodka. Wait at least a month, but the flavor will improve and deepen with steeping time. Strain out the beans, then pour the extract through a coffee filter to remove small particulates and make the liquid completely clear.
Note: Vanilla beans from different countries have distinct and unique flavors. I find Mexican vanilla beans spicy, while Madagascar vanilla beans taste creamier.  Experiment to find out which you like best! 


Mint Extract
1 cup fresh mint leaves (preferably organic)
Slightly less than 1 liter of vodka, at least 80 proof

Rinse the mint leaves well, then pack them into a 1-liter Mason jar. Fill the jar with vodka. Within a day, the clear vodka will turn a pale green, and will subsequently darken to a brownish-green over time. Leave the extract for at least two weeks, shaking occasionally, then strain out the mint leaves. Pour the extract through a coffee filter to remove small particulates and make the liquid completely clear.
Note: homemade mint extract has a deeper, more vegetal flavor than store bought. I like this, but you may not.


Lemon Extract
6 lemons (preferably organic)
Slightly less than 1 liter of vodka, at least 80 proof

Peel the lemons in strips with a sharp knife, then remove as much of the white pith as possible from each strip (pith will make the finished extract taste bitter). Place the strips of all-yellow peel in a 1-liter Mason jar, then top with vodka. Leave for at least a month, shaking occasionally. Strain out the lemon peel, then pour the extract through a coffee filter to remove small particulates and make the liquid completely clear.
Note: this recipe for lemon extract is just a step or two away from limoncello, a delicious topic I'll touch on later this spring.

Almond Extract
1 cup of raw almonds
Slightly less than 1 liter of vodka, at least 80 proof

Briefly blanch the almonds in boiling water (no more than two minutes). Peel off the soften skins, cut the almonds into slivers, and put them in a 1-liter Mason jar. Fill the jar with vodka and let the mixture sit for at least two months, shaking occasionally. Strain out the almonds, then pour the extract through a coffee filter to remove small particulates. Almond extract requires more filtration than vanilla, mint, or lemon, and may never be completely clear (though it'll taste just fine).





Price comparison
1 liter of store-bought vanilla: at least $50
1 liter of homemade vanilla: about $18
Make it or buy it? Make it! Simple, easy, and the rewards are enormous.

No comments:

Post a Comment