Thinking of making a homemade Valentine gift for someone this year? Extracts are easy and fun to make. Better yet, they’re compact and nonperishable, which means they’ll be welcome in everyone’s kitchen (including yours!). Creating your own extracts is as simple as adding good-quality vodka to your base ingredient: cocoa nibs for chocolate extract, coffee beans for coffee extract, cinnamon sticks for cinnamon extract, etc. Label your bottle with the date and let it sit for at least a month in a cool, dark place (three is better) and occasionally shake it. That’s it! The longer it sits, the more flavorful it will become, so there’s no upper limit on how long you can keep extracts—because you’re immersing your base ingredient in 80-proof liquor, it won’t spoil. Use about 6 parts spirit to 1 part base ingredient.
Vodka is best to use because it’s the most neutral-tasting spirit, but if you love the flavor of bourbon or rum, you can opt for that instead. Just make sure that you’re not using liquor that is already flavored, like spiced rum or pepper-infused vodka—you want your base ingredient to shine through. You can bottle your extract individually in small bottles and let it age that way, or you can make a larger bottle of it and then portion that out into individual-sized bottles for gift-giving purposes. Try making several kinds of extracts at once and then give away boxed sets of your flavorful creations. You can adorn them with handwritten labels and pretty ribbon ties, too.
Coffee extract (vodka + coffee beans) is ideal to use in chocolate-forward baked goods or when you want to make a quick coffee-infused soda—just add a dash to plain sparkling water.
Chocolate extract (vodka + toasted cocoa nibs) comes in handy for making Mudslides and other chocolate-oriented cocktails, because then you can enjoy the flavor of genuine chocolate instead of adding a super-sugary chocolate syrup that barely tastes like chocolate. Chocolate extract is also great to add to coffee when you want an instant mocha effect.
Vanilla extract (vodka + vanilla beans) is easy to make yourself, and with the prices of vanilla products going through the roof due to current crop shortages, if you have any vanilla beans lying around that you haven’t used, now is the time to make your own vanilla extract! Once you’ve made your extract, you can still chop the beans and use them in recipes.
Cinnamon extract (vodka + cinnamon sticks) adds a spicy, sweet flavor to just about any drink, or you can add it to sparkling water to make cinnamon soda. Your holiday guests will appreciate having a refreshing, non-alcoholic, non-sugary alternative at your next gathering! Or try cinnamon essential oil!
Lemon/orange extracts (vodka + lemon/orange zest) are lovely in baked goods, beverages, and even homemade whipped cream. Extract is less strong than essential oils, but it’s still stronger than fresh citrus juice, so use sparingly. You can also try lemon or orange essential oils – 1 drop goes a long way, learn more about them here!
Hazelnut extract (vodka + chopped and toasted hazelnuts) adds lovely flavor to coffee, baked goods, whipped cream, and anything else that benefits from a nutty undertone. Hazelnut-flavored beverages tend to be heavily sugared, so making your own hazelnut extract is a great way to enjoy hazelnut flavor without piling on sugar. (Note: almond extract is made from bitter almonds, which are not the same as the sweet almonds you buy in stores. That said, you can make almond extract with chopped and toasted sweet almonds, but know that it won’t taste quite like what you’re used to.)