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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Flavor Extractions

Have you browsed the baking aisle at your local grocery lately?

Have you happened to notice that flavor extracts are, oh...ridiculous?? And in lots of stores, it's not even the real thing! Imitation almond extract? Bah! It's crap, I say! ::shakes fist::

I needed orange extract for an upcoming muffin recipe (you'll just have to wait!), and they wanted $3.49 for a tiny little 1oz bottle. Are you kidding? The way I use extract, that'd be gone in the span of two recipes. (My vanilla comes in a liter bottle. No joke.)

In this economy, many people are scrimping and saving wherever they can. These manufactures are completely ripping off the consumer. So today's tutorial is about getting the most flavor for your buck. Literally.

I'm focusing on orange today, but you can do this with anything--vanilla, lemon, coffee beans, almonds, herbs, mint, whatever you like. Just think of all the change you'll be saving! And, of course, a bottle of homemade extract makes great gift-basket addition. (Vanilla lime, anyone? Lemon basil? Well, don't mind if I dooo!)

What you'll need:

- Glass jar with a lid. You can use the kind commonly used for oils, a canning jar, a mason jar, etc. Whatever you use, it needs to be able to have an air-tight seal. I used a clean carafe with a plastic lid.
- Vegetable peeler
- 2 Medium oranges, washed
- Unflavored vodka
- Sharp knife

That's it.

To begin, start peeling, or "zesting" your orange. I didn't recommend a zester because, ideally, you don't want tiny little flakes. You want thick handsome strips.
Unless you have some super macho peeler, it shouldn't penetrate the pith (the white part of the rind). All you should have is clean, orange strips, and you'll be left with two white, naked oranges. At least give the poor guys a towel. Come on, have a heart.

Now, using your sharp knife, cut the strips into long slivers. You want lots and lots of strips because you want as much exposed surface area as possible. The more surface area, the more flavor.

Plop the little strips into your glass container, and cover with vodka. You want each strip fully submerged. Shake well, and store jar in a cool, dark place. (There are only about 1/4 of my strips submerged in this photo. You'll want much more than this.)

Remember to shake it once a day, and in about a week, you'll have flavorful orange extract. The longer you let it steep, the stronger it'll get. And come on, who doesn't love aromas with some muscle? I bet you already had all these ingredients in the house, too. Didn't cost a dime! And just as a sidenote, the vodka flavor does fully disappear as you let the rinds mingle a bit.

You can, of course, make this in smaller batches if you don't need as much. Half-pint canning jars work well. You want a general ratio of 1:1 orange strips to vodka.

The same process can be used for any "zestable" fruit with a rind like lemons.

For vanilla extract, simply buy 3-4 whole vanilla beans at your local spice or specialty shop, slice them open along the length, and soak.

For almond extract, you can make extract by grinding about 4oz almonds in a food processor until they have the texture of sugar or sand. Add about 2 cups of vodka or brandy, and let sit, shaking daily, for about six weeks. Brandy and vodka each give the extract a slightly different flavor, so you can mess around with it and figure out what you like best.

Happy eating!

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