I am fascinated by the extractive properties of alcohol. Whatever it comes in contact with is transferred to it. My friend Nata of Nata's Cocktails
once referred to vodka as "the chicken of liquors". The same technique used to make herbal medicine, bitters, tinctures, colognes and flavored vodka also make extracts.
This winter has been a cold one, one of the coldest on record. I'm not the happiest cook in the world but lately I've been cooking up all kinds of warming soups and stews. But what actually makes me happy is baking and so I've turned my attention to creating extracts.
I started with vanilla, naturally. I consume more vanilla than your average person, I add it to everything. I did a lot of research and discovered that most homemade vanilla extract is quite weak. To legally be called extract it has to have six beans per cup of alcohol, otherwise you're just making vanilla flavored vodka. Sliced, seeded and chopped up I let the six beans macerate for three months until it was a dark opaque and extraordnarily flavorful brew.
That got me started, once I hit on a good thing I want more. I adore toasted hazelnuts so that was my next venture. And why do only one nut when you can do three? Toasted almond and pistachio made sense and I'm considering pecan. I toasted the nuts, let them cool, chopped them up, put them in a clean jar and covered them with vodka. The hazelnuts are a bit more complicated in that once you've toasted them you have to let them cool and rub off the skins. It's a bit time consuming but totally worth it as the skins leave a bitter taste. Leave to macerate for one to three months and then filter and clarify.
This winter I've discovered the joy of making my own nut milks. It's so easy when you know how and there are instructions all over the internet. I started with almond but gradually expanded into hazelnut, pistachio, cashew and coconut. To the almond, hazelnut and pistachio I added their respective extract to bump up the flavor (and usually a bit of vanilla, too!).
Now that citrus season is in full swing I've turned my attention to citrus extracts. When they first came in season I couldn't get enough tangerines so that was the first extract I created. I've got meyer lemon, blood orange and vanilla orange brewing. When I was a kid I adored creamsicles and still go crazy for that creamy orange and vanilla combination. Simply zest whatever fruit you choose, place in a clean jar and cover with vodka. Leave to macerate one to three months, strain and clarify.
I love tea so created some extracts out of my favorites. I drink a delicious all naturally flavored peach tea in the wintertime so created Peach Tea Extract. I love it in seltzer. As the bubbly glass approaches your nose the bubbles pop with perfumed tea fragrance. It's truly sublime. I've added Blackcurrant Tea as well. Attempts at Jasmine and Russian Caravan were less successful but I'm still willing to try working those out.
I also have an abundance of chocolate mint growing in my garden. I've flavored vodka with it in the past and was delighted by the results. Tissane brewed of the mint is nice, minty with a bit of chocolate flavor, but when extracted in alcohol the chocolate flavor really comes through. I have just a couple of bottles left, I'll have to wait until summer to create more.
Extracts are, of course, delicious in baked goods but the possibilities for other deserts are endless. Ice cream comes to mind (but that's for a warmer season). And whatever confection you decide to create don't forget to spike your whipped cream with some extra extracted kick.
To experiment with some of my flavorings check out my Etsy
store. Some of them are bottled in vintage extract bottles found on the beach.