My making extracts started when I decided not to buy any more non-dairy hazelnut creamer for my coffee. I’m a big fan of hazelnut and love the taste in coffee. Non-dairy creamer is made with various vegetable fats, sugar and chemicals. I wanted real milk, preferably half-and-half, flavored like hazelnut. Getting this without a lot of chemicals turns out to be difficult and expensive.
Coffeemate makes a product called Natural Bliss that is supposedly made with only real milk, cream and natural flavorings. They even make hazelnut flavor. It is not a product carried by my favorite grocery store. I have to drive across town to purchase it. The flavor is not all that I’d like in my creamer. There must be a better way, I thought.
After researching hazelnut coffee flavorings, I discovered that adding the hazelnut flavor to coffee involves either syrups or extracts. The syrups have a lot of sugar and the extracts have a chemical called propylene glycol that is way too close to anti-freeze for my liking. Not surprisingly, there is considerable controversy around this food additive. I wanted to steer clear.
So, I researched how to make extracts. Surprisingly, it is quite simple and not very expensive. I’m not sure why extracts cost so much to buy, the ingredients are not that dear and the process is not difficult.
I had some raw hazelnuts on hand since I love them and eat them all the time. And, I just happened to have a nearly full bottle of 40 proof vodka, lucky me!
I found recipes online for making hazelnut extract and modified the best to suit my taste.
1 cup 30-40 proof vodka
1.5 cups hazelnuts
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or one bean split and scraped)
For the best flavor the nuts must be roasted to release their tasty oils. We run a large woodstove to heat the house, so toasting the nuts was not a problem. I placed them in a small covered skillet on the top of the moderately warm woodstove (about 350F on the thermometer below the flue.) Every few minutes I stirred the nuts so they wouldn’t burn and toasted them about one-half hour until the skins split and they turned golden brown.
Place the vodka and vanilla in a clean pint canning jar. Rub the hazelnuts to loosen the skins and remove as much skin as possible. Coarsely crush the warm nuts and place in the jar of vodka. The alcohol should cover the nuts. Put on the lid, give the jar a good shake and store in a cool, dark place for a month, shaking every few days.
After a month, strain the nuts, saving the alcohol. Crush the nuts well, place in a sauce pan with 1/4 cup water, bring to a boil. You may add 1/2 cup sugar, honey or agave nectar to the water to sweeten. If so, boil long enough to make a thin syrup. Strain the mix through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth. Add the flavored alcohol, store, sealed, in the fridge.
I’ve finished the first step, and am now on the waiting four weeks part. The alcohol mix is a nice golden brown and already smells great after only a few days. I didn’t obsess over removing every bit of skin so some is still present in the mix.
After that bit of success, I got to thinking that real vanilla extract is fairly expensive and I could probably make my own. The recipe for that is even more simple. I found a great online site called Beanilla where quality vanilla beans from around the world can be purchased in bulk.
For the best extract, vanilla beans should be soft and moist, not dried out as so many are in local stores. I discovered there are many varieties of bean, all produced by a lovely orchid. For my first foray into making vanilla extract I opted to use what is called the most popular bean, Madagascar Bourbon and another bean that sounded delicious, Tahitian (Tahitensis) from Indonesia. The Madagascar are described as having a buttery, sweet, rich, dark and creamy flavor. The Tahitensis are depicted as flowery and fruity with tones of cherry and licorice and being rich in oils. The difference in the beans can certainly be smelled and the descriptions seemed quite accurate.
Honestly, I had no idea there was so much involved in purchasing vanilla beans! They are not inexpensive, but the price at Beanilla is about 1/8 the cost of whole vanilla beans in my local super market. And the quality is exponentially higher. So I bought ten beans, five of each variety. The website offers a recipe for making extract, which I adapted.
10 vanilla beans
1.5 cups 30-40 proof vodka
Place the vodka in a clean pint canning jar. Cut the beans length-wise to expose the soft interior. Slice the beans to the right length so they will be covered by alcohol in the jar. Scrape the insides of the beans, if desired, or not. I did not, they are very gummy and I didn’t want to waste any of the material. Just opening the bean will allow the alcohol to work its magic. Place the beans in the vodka, cover the jar, shake. Store in a cool, dark place. Shake once or twice a week for eight weeks.
The alcohol will turn dark brown as the essence of the beans is extracted.
I can hardly wait to taste my extracts!!
Here is a link to the Beanilla site: https://www.beanilla.com/