Its December already and a year has flown by with its share of ups and downs. This space has also seen the ebb and flow of posts coming its way(or not!). Driving home from work today I almost contemplated closing this blog given the erratic updates. But something in me couldn't fathom not being able to log in and pen down my thoughts and recipes here. Its been over 6 years since I started blogging and it has slowly but firmly planted itself into my identity. I may not come here as often but I will never cut it off.
With my mind cleared out I was back to planning the 'butter+sugar' month. Though I come from a Hindu family, Christmas has always held a special place. I think its a combination of 12 years at a convent school, holidays around this time, having family friends who brought us decadent fruit cakes and home-made wine and the magic of experiencing an all-white Christmas in the US. I am not a baker and would peg myself into the cook category as I can never strictly adhere to a recipe. But come December I whip out the hand mixer, buy pounds of butter, sugar and flour and start compiling recipes to bake.
Flavor extracts are a key ingredient in many desserts, especially vanilla. Orange is another flavor that I find myself adding to most of my recent recipes. Its just as easy to add zest but having an extract on hand is convenient when you are out of fresh fruit or don't want to taint the color of a cream frosting or white chocolate etc.
There is not exact recipe for these -combine your choice of (prepped) flavoring ingredient + vodka (triple distilled, 80-100 proof) and allow it to steep in cool, dark place.
Homemade ExtractsVanilla Extract
- 2-3 Vanilla beans, split lengthwise
- 3/4 cup - Vodka
- glass bottle with lid/cork
Notes: Within 3 days you will begin to notice a light brown color and the extract was strong enough to use within 2 weeks. A month would be ideal but if you want to use it sooner start off with extra vanilla beans. I used 4-5 beans in my current batch and add more vodka as I use some of it. I buy my vanilla beans on Amazon from this supplier, its a great deal and the quality has been great. You can use vanilla beans in the extract for recipes as well. They will be super moist and you can squeeze out the seeds easily.
- Pick a glass bottle that can hold a whole vanilla bean. Clean and dry completely. Place vanilla beans in the bottle and cover completely with vodka. Seal well and place in a cool, dark place in your kitchen. Give it a shake every day or so for the first week.
- 1-2 - whole organic lemons or 1 orange
- 3/4 cup - Vodka
- glass bottle with lid/cork
Notes: Use organic fruit or fruit not treated with pesticides or wax coating since we will be using just the peels here. I wanted the extract to have a strong citrus flavor and used a high zest to vodka ratio. Some recipes I saw online suggested straining the extract after a month but I've had mine steeping for about 3 months now it had not turned bitter on me. But do check on your batch and strain if needed after you are satisfied with the flavor.
- Wash and dry fruit thoroughly before peeling off the thin outer layer. If any white pith remains, slice it off with a paring knife as they tend to add bitterness. Fill the bottle with peels and cover completely with vodka. Seal well and place in a cool, dark place in your kitchen. Shake the bottle gently one a day for 2-3 days. Check for readiness after a week or continue to steep longer.
You can apply the same method to make flavored liqueurs. Below are raspberry and lemon (my take on chambord and limoncello) liqueurs getting ready to do their thing. For the raspberry (which was my fav of the two), I used 2 pints of organic berries and 2 cups of vodka. After steeping for 2 weeks all the color from the raspberry transfers to the vodka along with the their fabulous flavor. Strain gently, and add equal quantity of cooled simple syrup to the flavored vodka. Simple syrup is a combination of equal parts sugar and water heated just until sugar is melted. Allow it to cool completely before adding to your vodka. Store for another 2 weeks before its ready to be served. A similar process for limoncello as well - reference recipe.
These make perfect gifts to anyone who loves to bake or enjoys cocktails. They don't require much hands-on time once you have the bottles filled and stashed. I bought the smaller bottles at Michaels and the larger ones at Marshalls for a bargain.
These extracts will immensely improve the quality of your baked goods. The flavors are strong and provide a depth that can never be replicated by store bought ones. So far I've made - Cranberry Pecan Muffins using the recipe from America's Test Kitchen (register to read recipe + useful tips & tricks, or check this). These were perfect with a prominent cranberry flavor, just enough sweetness and a fabulous nuttiness from the pecans. The streusel topping stayed crunchy even the next day. Do give it a try before fresh cranberries disappear from the store aisles.
I attempted my first batch of macarons using Helene's tutorial. No two macarons were the same shape but they all tasted great :) Next on the list was replicating my favorite treat from Starbucks - cranberry bliss bars. I searched for recipes online and ended up with this one. I used vanilla and orange extract in the blondie batter. I made the frosting with 8 oz cream cheese, 1 cup powdered sugar and my vanilla and lemon extract. I also replaced the sugar frosting drizzle with melted white chocolate. The bars were a huge hit and the cream cheese frosting was amazing with that zing of lemon.
I bake these goodies and share them with my colleagues at work. What should I try next, any suggestions ?