The weeks that follow the holidays are all about mental pick-me-ups. In between shuffling half-used wrapping paper into the closet, sweeping up dead pine needles and deciding whether to eat more or less pizza this year for your resolution, give yourself time for a project that can literally only make you feel better. Remember your dear, lovely friend aromatherapy? Seriously, the best free therapy in the world is to go to a health market and sniff all the oils. Whether citrus makes your heart burst or you long for cooling mint on a Monday when that inevitable headache rolls in, you’ve likely got a scent that gets you going. Channel that for this easy (REALLY easy) afternoon activity- making your own flavored extracts
Have you ever tried to make a recipe that calls for an extract, only to get to the grocery store and realize they want to charge $12 for the most microscopic bottle you’ve ever seen? Not to mention, they’re generally a watered-down, sugared-down version of a flavor. We cannot stand for this. Let’s put an end to this injustice.
The first step is to choose some of your favorite flavors--or as I like to call them, “flavor-ites.” An obvious and wonderful choice would be vanilla, but feel free to use your imagination here. I chose mint, grapefruit and cardamom because I can’t not be in love with them even if I try and I thought they might inspire my baking in the future. Flavorite it up and then basically all you have to do is go to the liquor store.
No, really. Vodka is the secret to homemade extracts, as it absorbs flavors without overwhelming them with its own taste. For vanilla, you could branch out and try brandy or rum for a darker, richer flavor but for anything else vodka is your liquor of choice. As far as selecting a brand, go for something cheap but not bottom-shelf cheap. There’s no point in paying for expensive vodka when its purpose is to take on another flavor, but you do want a smooth, neutral base for your extract. Make sure you double-check that you’re not accidentally buying a vodka that already has a flavor as well. For my needs, a regular sized bottle was plenty but grab a larger one if you need a cocktail while you’re crafting or if you plan on making more than a few.
Next is to find cute jars or bottles! Which deserves an exclamation point because who doesn’t like an excuse to look at cute jars and bottles? You have many options here. You can hit up a craft store and find many adorable varieties for an inexpensive price. This is best if you want all of your extracts to match. If you’re open to more variety, I recommend upcycling mason jars you may have in your cupboards at home or picking some up at the thrift store. Just make sure they have good lids and you’re set. Another pro-tip is that the dollar store has all kinds of glassware. While you’re out, you may want to pick up some labels or stickers as well.
Now you’re ready to get at this. When I said it was really easy, I meant it. Put on some good music, make a snack and/or drink and then take whatever flavor you chose and fill the bottom of a jar with it. It doesn’t need to be exact. For the mint that I chose, I rubbed it gently in my palms first which is something I do when I’m cooking to release flavor. For any sort of citrus, you really just need the rinds. For a spice such as cardamom, just make sure you’ve got the whole pod or flower (no crushed or ground) and toss in a good handful. If you’re making vanilla, 5 beans should be plenty for an 8 oz bottle. To finish, top your flavors with vodka- if your bottles have narrow tops, you can use a funnel. Close tightly, label and let sit for 6 weeks. If you'd like, you can strain out the ingredients when your extracts are ready for easier pouring, but the longer they hang out the deeper the flavors will be. Especially with vanilla, I'd recommend leaving the pods in- even as you start to use the extract.
DONE. You’ll have adorable jars to look at for a while and something to look forward to.
Happy extracting, folks.