Flavorings, Extracts And Liqueurs
You can make many of your own extracts, flavored sugars, and fruit cordials or liqueurs at home without too much effort by infusing fruit peels and spices in vodka, rum, or other liquors.
It's a fun and easy project during the Winter months. When decanted in fancy bottles and bedecked with colorful ribbons, raffia-tied spices, cinnamon sticks and pine cones, the bottled infusions make cheerful and welcomed Holiday gifts.
Add 3-4 vanilla beans to a 1/2 pint canning jar filled with 1/2 vodka and 1/2 Myer's rum (or just plain vodka will do). There are also vanilla flavored vodkas on the market now, but that sort of defeats the purpose. In a few weeks when the vodka has sufficiently infused, you can remove the vanilla beans and then store them in a jar filled with sugar for several months. The sugar will take on the vanilla flavor and you can use this sugar to make apple pie, cookies, sprinkle on desserts or in whipped cream, etc. Or else leave the beans in the vodka; they will eventually dissolve over time. Shake up the jar to disperse before using. Try infusing strega (Galliano) with vanilla beans; use this instead of vanilla extract when making biscotti or pound cake; or for soaking
To make mint extract, obtain a pound or so of fresh spearmint or peppermint leaves (harvest them at noon time on a sunny day), wash them well and crush/bruise the leaves. Add these to a quart sized canning jar of vodka and place in the sun. Using a piece of well-washed, new cheese cloth, strain (and discard) the leaves from the infusion after three to four weeks.
For orange or lemon extract, you need to use a zesting tool or a vegetable peeler to strip off the peels of the citrus while leaving the white "pith", which is bitter, behind.
Squeeze the fruit, removing the membranes and seeds; place peels and fruit pulp into a quart sized canning jar, filling 1/3 of the jar. Add vodka (there are citrus flavored vodkas that might be interesting, or else try limoncello!).
For anise extract, fill a 1/2 pint canning jar with whole star anise. Fill with vodka, leave indefinitely. Star anise also stores well in sugar to make anise flavored sugar. (An interesting side note: Star anise are the star shaped seed pods from the fruit of a Chinese evergreen tree which provides a key ingredient used in the production of Tamiflu, an antiviral agent purportedly effective in helping to fight H5N1 bird flu and other influenza).
Pomegranates make an interesting cordial and a great substitute for red food coloring as well. Just look at that color! No wonder pomegranates are loaded with anti-oxidants. Remove the skin and membranes from 3-4 pomegranates and put the seeds, separated, in the bottom of a quart sized canning jar. Crush the seeds with the back of the spoon. Fill the rest of the jar with vodka. Let sit about a week. Store in a sealed decanter in a cool, dark, place.
In all infusions, check the progress of things from time to time (by tasting, of course!). If the infusion is lacking flavor, leave it to steep for a longer period or start again by straining the liquid and adding a new batch of the flavoring ingredient (to the same vodka that has been already infused).
In this way, you can also add multiple layers of flavor or create new combinations by using a second flavoring ingredient the next time around.
Selecting and Buying
Foraging for wild ingredients may require some research about your regions growing season. Take some time to get to know your city or town’s best harvesting time and best areas to look for wild fruits and herbs.
Preparation and Use
Infusing liquor is a simple process and the ingredients are few. The liquor of your choice, the flavor elements and a little sugar or honey. Quart or 1/2 quart size jars with rubber lids and rims and cheese cloth and a large bowl. The most important ingredient is time.
Measurements are not vital; they depend on the amount of fruit or herb(s) used and the size of the container. Use of sugar is a matter of taste. When using more tart fruit add more sugar (one tablespoon for each cup of liquor). Grape, Date and raisin infused liquors require less sugar.
Wash your fruit and herbs prior to placing in clean jars. Add sugar and pour your choice of liquor over. Cover and seal loosely. After filling and sealing jars gently rotate jars to mix sugar, fruit and liquid together.
Conserving and Storing
Steep the flavors anywhere from eight days to four months in a dark cool location. Do not store in direct sunlight unless recipe indicates.
A progress check is needed every few days to release the gasses that form from the steeping process. Liquid can evaporate if your seal is not tight enough so check and refill as needed.
After steeping, filter the liquid and age the infusion indefinitely to broaden the flavors. If fruit appears to be in good shape serve with a bit of the liquor infusion over ice cream, yogurt or in a cordial glass as an after dinner apertif.