Many cake and cookie recipes will call for extracts to add extra flavor. The most common are vanilla, orange, almond, and mint extract.
One of the issues is that decent extracts, especially organic ones and especially vanilla, can be pricey. On the plus side, they have a super long shelf life, being mainly alcohol based. As well, they can be quite potent, so a little goes a long way.
If you are into baking and find yourself reaching for those tiny bottles of extracts often, you might want to think about making your own. All you need is some plant matter (flavor) and some alcohol. If, for whatever reason, you avoid alcohol, don’t worry, there is an alcohol-free version for you.
What is an Herbal Extract?
Alcohol-based extracts are just tinctures. Tinctures, however, are usually used for medicinal purposes. Here, we are looking to make herbal extracts purely for the flavors that can be added to baked goods. Herbal extracts give concentrated flavor to cakes and cookies without having to add bulk ingredients.
Now herbal extracts are made using alcohol and plant matter. The alcohol works as a solvent, pulling compounds from the plant that are not water-soluble, such as resins and oils. Any alcohol can be used, such as brandy, rum, or whiskey, but vodka is usually the solvent of choice as it is odorless and doesn’t have a strong flavor. It is recommended that you use alcohol that is 80-90 proof. This is ideal for basic extract-making using citrus peels and common herbs.
How Do I Make a Basic Herbal Extract?
Source: The Stay At Home Chef/YouTube
To make your herbal extracts, you will need some small glass jars or bottles with lids. You should try to use plastic lids, or cover the opening of the container with parchment paper or plastic before putting a metal lid on it. Also, think about getting hold of amber glass, as this will help to keep your extract for longer. You will also need plant matter or ‘flavorings’ of your choice and some alcohol.
You may use dried or fresh herbs and citrus peels for your extracts. If you are using fresh plant matter, fill your container two-thirds full. If you are using dry plants, fill your container only halfway full. Dried herbs are much more potent than fresh herbs.
Next, fill your container to the top with alcohol. There should be room for you to be able to shake the jar or bottle and agitate the contents. Put a lid on your container and store it in a cool, dark place for 6-8 weeks. Shake your extract every day to help with the process.
Once you are satisfied, you can strain out the plant matter and store your extract in small bottles to be stored in your pantry. If you have small particles, try to use a cheesecloth to make sure that as much is removed as possible. Be sure to label the container with the name and date.
Alcohol-based extracts are very shelf stable and can last for years.
Is There an Alternative to Alcholol?
Yes! If you are avoiding alcohol, you can make herbal extracts using all your favorite plants plus vegetable glycerine. The method is much the same as that for alcohol-based extracts.
Make sure that you use a food-grade vegetable glycerine and try to find organic if you can. If you are using dried herbs or peels, mix the glycerine with distilled water to a ratio of about 75 percent glycerine to 25 percent water. This helps loosen the dried herbs up, making their desired compounds more available. If you are using fresh plant matter, you can use 100 percent glycerine.
Otherwise, follow the same instructions as above. Note that glycerine-based extracts do not have as long a shelf life as alcohol-based ones, but you are still looking at 14-24 months.
What Can I Use to Make Extracts?
You can let your imagination run wild here! Just make sure that whatever you are using is food-grade and edible. You can make extracts from the citrus zest, such as lemon, orange, or grapefruit. Harvest some peppermint from the garden or even order some organic vanilla pods.
Try putting some cinnamon sticks in a jar with some vodka for a festive flavor. You could even use some coffee grounds to make an extract for your favorite coffee cake recipe, or fresh coconut if you are feeling a little tropical!
There you have it! Stock your pantry with homemade extracts and add fun and flavor to your best-loved desserts.
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