Store-bought flavored extracts generally fall into two categories: expensive, high-quality versions and cheap, low-quality or imitation brands. Making your own extracts not only saves you money, but also allows you to control the strength of the flavoring. Choose quality ingredients throughout the process, including the base alcohol. Experiment with different flavor combinations to stock your pantry with more extract varieties than you find in your local store.
Choose a Booze
Flavored extract is made by steeping spices, herbs, fruit or other foods in alcohol. Vodka is the typical choice for making an extract, as its smooth and light flavor does not overshadow the taste of the additions. However, rum offers another option, especially for citrus and nut extracts. Bourbon and brandy work for richer extracts, such as vanilla or almond, but impart a stronger flavor of the liquor in baking. The most important part of choosing your alcohol is picking a quality brand. While an expensive liquor is not necessary, opt for at least a midshelf bottle of 80- to 100-proof liquor.
Use glass bottles to steep and store homemade extracts, as they are easier to sanitize than plastic and can be reused. Choose the shape, size and color of your bottles based on your personal aesthetic and the size of the ingredients you intend to steep. Purchase bottles that come with a screw top or a tightly fitted cork to ensure that the extract stays fresh. If you use the flavored extract often, you can pour out enough liquor from the bottle and simply add the flavorings to the bottle. Clear bottles allow you to see the flavoring agents through the glass during steeping, which makes for decorative containers on your shelves or a nice homemade gift.
The ratio of your flavoring ingredient to alcohol, combined with the length of time you steep it, helps determine the strength of your extract. To make the extract more quickly, or for a stronger flavor, increase the amount of the addition compared to the alcohol. As a general rule, for every 1/2 cup of liquor, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of nuts or whole spices, 2 to 3 vanilla pods, rinds from 1 to 2 citrus fruit or 1/4 cup fresh herbs. Adjust the amounts to taste and preference. Prepare nuts and spices by lightly crushing them before steeping. Vanilla pods should be added whole. For citrus extracts, such as lemon, peel the rind in thick strips and steep. Take care not to add any of the bitter pith. Lightly bruise fresh herbs with your fingers to release the oils before adding them to the liquor.
Steep and Shake
Pour the alcohol into your chosen bottle, add your flavoring ingredients and cork the bottle. Store the bottle in a cool, dark place. Shake the bottle every few days for the first two weeks, then once a week for the remainder of two months. Using a mesh sieve or a coffee filter, strain the extract into a clean, sanitized bowl. Pour the liquid back into the bottle for storage.
Safety and Storage
Boil or steam your glass bottles to sterilize them before preparing the flavored extract. When making extract with fresh herbs or fruit, use organic produce to avoid introducing pesticide residue into the liquor. Store the flavored extracts in the bottles out of direct sunlight and away from heat. The extracts will keep indefinitely.
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- The Kitchn: When to Use Flavoring Oils vs. Extracts
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- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
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