Start Today With These Homemade Snippets For Christmas Gifts
I know what you are thinking:
“Christmas? Already? Can’t we at least make it to Halloween before we start being bombarded with the holiday hype?”
I understand you. Seriously. I do.
But if you’re like me and hate having to shop or scramble at the last minute when everyone who has procrastinated is fighting to get the gifts picked and sent on time, then really, it shocks you- it that we were talking about Christmas today?
If you are the DIY DIY type for Christmas, now is the time to start thinking about the projects you need to get started now, so that your gifts are ready in time for the holidays.
I like to give and receive homemade gifts. There is something special about them. When I give gifts, I imbue every step of the process with love for the recipients. Figuring out what to do is always the hardest part for me, and getting all the parts I need to develop my plans takes forethought.
For the end of the year celebrations, I shared with you my limoncello recipe. This year, I’m sharing two homemade extract recipes: vanilla and orange.
I started my homemade extract journey eight years ago with vanilla. Only a week after bottling, my curiosity got the better of me. I opened one of the bottles to breathe in the slowly darkening sweet elixir. That first puff hooked me, filling me with such warmth and anticipation for the final product.
I discovered an unexpected plus with homemade vanilla extract the first time I used it: vanilla bean beans in each teaspoon added more flavor and increased the visual appeal of my homemade treats. .
Making vanilla extract also means you will hardly run out of it. I just top the bottle up with a little vodka every time I use it. I keep two bottles open, alternating their use, so that the fresh vodka has time to soften and mix with the existing flavored extract. The next time I need vanilla extract, one of the bottles will always be ready to use. When the flavor finally wanes in intensity, I remove the old pods and add a fresh vanilla bean to the bottle. Plus, any whole vanilla pods that I use for baking projects, I cut them in half and slip them into one of the bottles to cool the extract, rather than throwing the pods away.
Vanilla beans can be expensive, and not all sources sell a quality product. I finally opted for beans from the online store Beanilla. They have a great selection of beans. I buy category B Bourbon vanilla pods from Madagascar, aka “bean extract”. They are sometimes a little cracked and not as plump as Grade A, but they make a great extract and are less expensive than Grade A beans which are best for baking and baking.
To give an example of how much to buy, the last time I made extracts I needed 30 bottles for my friends and 30 bottles for my aunt’s friends. So I bought a 1 pound bag of vanilla pods, which contained 147 pods (the final number of pods will vary since they are sold by weight). I had plenty for my project. They are sold in quantities as small as a group of 3 individual bean pods up to a 50 pound bag.
Orange extract is one of my favorite flavoring agents, from cakes and cookies to my morning porridge, and even savory dishes like roasts or carnitas. It adds a subtle touch of citrus that’s sweeter than a squeeze of lemon but not as invigorating.
Just like in making limoncello, the longest part is peeling the oranges finely, so that you only remove the orange part of the skin, which is rich in orange oil, without getting the bitter white pith. . Then you combine it with vodka and wait. And wait.
And wait a little longer until the alcohol has removed all the oil (and color) from the peels. Unlike limoncello, there is no added sugar. Once the peels have lost their color, it is a double filtration through a coffee filter and a fine mesh strainer; then you are ready to bottle.
Use glass bottles for a professional look
I recommend the site online Specialized Bottle Co, as a source for your bottles. i use brown glass ($ 1 each if you buy less than a case, plus tax and shipping) for my vanilla to protect my precious homemade extract from light (the vodka will continue to extract flavor from the pod). i use Clean glass ($ 1.04 each if you buy less than a case, plus tax and shipping) for orange, although amber also works great.
Choose vodka for the best result
As for alcohol, unflavored alcohol is preferable, such as vodka. Yes, you can use cheap vodka, but mid to high end vodka is better for a cleaner flavor. You can also use a good quality bourbon (like Maker’s Mark) or even rum, although the flavors of the alcohol tone down the vanilla taste. I always use vodka, either Seagram’s Extra Smooth or Smirnoff, depending on what’s on sale.
For the vanilla, you will put the beans in the bottles, fill them with vodka up to the neck, screw the cap on tightly and let it steep for at least 8 to 12 weeks. Once a week, you will need to vigorously shake each bottle to aid the process.
The orange peels will go in a large airtight container with the alcohol. i use a 68 oz airtight acrylic container of the container store. Soak the peels for at least 8 to 12 weeks. If you can afford to go a little longer for the steep weather, take it. The longer these two extracts are infused, the more intense their flavors will be. At the end of the steeping time, the zest should be devoid of color and essential oil. The extract will then be ready for filtration and bottling.
While your extracts are soaking, take the time to design your labels. Look for Avery waterproof labels at your local office supply store as the first choice. They also have a range of marketing labels which is a great second choice (the ones that look like kraft paper on vanilla are from the marketing range). I bought a round label for the front of my bottles. A square for the backs of the vanilla ones allowed me to explain to my gifts how to keep their endless bottle for years to come.
These extracts are easy to prepare and always a hit with family and friends who love to cook.
Scissors work better than a knife for splitting beans. According to online supplier Beanilla, the remaining bean pods will keep for up to a year if stored in an airtight glass container. This recipe makes enough for six bottles – you can double or triple the recipe for more.
6 airtight amber glass bottles (4 ounces) with screw caps
12 whole vanilla pods
1 (750 ml) bottle of vodka
You will also need:
Prepare your bottles by washing them thoroughly in hot soapy water. Allow time to air dry completely before using.
Using scissors, cut your beans in half to make them fit better in the bottle. Next, cut the bean halves lengthwise, stopping a quarter of an inch from the end so one end is still intact. Add four bean halves to each bottle (2 whole pods for 4 ounces of vodka is a good value).
Place a small funnel in a clean bottle. Fill with vodka, stopping right at the start of the neck, leaving enough room for the bottle to be shaken during the steeping process. Screw on the cap firmly. Repeat with the remaining bottles.
Design and print your labels. Label the bottles, then store them in a cool, dark place for at least 8 to 12 weeks (the longer they soak before first opening, the better the extraction). Once a week, shake each bottle well to make the process easier.
As you use the vanilla, just fill with more vodka. After about a year of frequent use, you may find that the flavor is less intense. Remove the spent pods, add a fresh vanilla pod prepared as above. To keep them from spoiling, make sure that the vanilla pods always remain submerged in the vodka.
The recipe below will fill about six 4-ounce bottles using a ratio of 10 large oranges per 750ml bottle of vodka, making it easy to double or triple the recipe depending on how many bottles you plan to give. Any pesticides sprayed on commercial oranges will seep into the extract, so use organically grown oranges. Using an airtight container for soaking is crucial to keep the alcohol from evaporating.
10 large organic oranges
1 (750 ml) bottle of vodka
You will also need:
Large airtight container, at least 68 ounces
6 airtight bottles (4 ounces) with screw caps
Fine mesh sieve
Large bowl or pitcher
Self-adhesive waterproof labels
Rub the oranges well. Using a sharp paring knife or vegetable peeler, remove the outer portion of the orange peel, being careful not to get a bitter white pith. If you do, use the paring knife to scrape off the marrow. Place the peels in a large container with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the vodka over the zest and stir with a wooden spoon. Close the lid and store the container in a cool, dark place for at least 8 to 12 weeks.
Wash 4-ounce bottles in hot, soapy water and air dry. When dry, replace their caps and keep them until ready to use.
Line a fine mesh sieve with a large coffee filter and place it on a large bowl or pitcher when the soaking time is complete. Carefully pour the orange extract one cup at a time through the sieve, removing and discarding the peels as you go. This filtering process is slow but essential to ensure that there are no impurities in the finished extract.
Place the funnel in one of the 4-ounce bottles. Pour the filtered extract into the bottle, stopping just below the neck of the bottle. Immediately screw the cap tight. Repeat until all the bottles are full or until you run out of extract.
Design and stick labels. Store the extract in a cool, dark place until it’s ready to be offered.
Recipes are copyrighted by Anita L. Arambula and are reprinted with permission from Confessions of a foodie.
Arambula is the artistic director and designer of the food section. She blogs on confessionsofafoodie.me, where the original version of this article was published. Follow her on Instagram: @afotogirl. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.