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Vanilla essence, orange extract, peppermint extract, almond extract, lavender oil…. I seem to be forever paying premium prices for miniscule bottles of these precious liquids, and with the Hollyblue Bakery launching last week, I’ve been wondering if this really is a cost effective way to bake. Having struggled for some time to find a recipe that will allow me to add lavender infused water to make my delicious Lavender & White Chocolate Brownies I’ve been wracking my brains for a better way to do it. Furthermore, convinced that anything home-made is going to be 100 times more delicious than its shop bought counter-part, I couldn’t resist the challenge to try and produce my own.

To start with, of course, I needed to get my terminology right. What is the difference between an extract and an essence anyway, and which one should I be making? According to various sources, an extract is made by extracting flavour from its natural source (so vanilla pods for vanilla, or orange peel for orange), where as essence is made from an artificial flavour source. A nice and easy decision; I’m making extracts then. (Plus any imposters in my cupboard sporting the “essence” label have been promptly relegated to the bin!)

Having done some research on the internet, I have to confess I was surprised to find that the basis of an extract is in fact alcohol. Recipes vary in their recommended alcohol, including brandy, whiskey and, most widely, vodka. I opted for vodka and although I was unable to obtain a 100 proof vodka as recommended, I am hopeful that 80 proof will do just as well.

So, armed with a large bottle of vodka and three jars, last night I set out to begin my Epic Extract Experiment! I have decided to start with three extracts; vanilla, orange and lavender. The recipes I used are below:

Vanilla Extract
  • 300ml Vodka (80 proof)
  • 8 Vanilla Pods, split in half
Orange Extract
  • 300ml Vodka (80 proof)
  • Peel of 4 large Oranges, carefully peeled to not contain the white pith (which apparently would make the extract too bitter)
Lavender Extract
  • 300ml Vodka (80 proof)
  • 1 1/4 cup Dried Lavender
  • Due to the volume of lavender, add the first 3/4 cup lavender to start off with and hold the remaining lavender aside. After 3-4 week, once the lavender has completely lost its colour, sift out the old lavender and add the other 1/2 cup.
  • Sterilise the jar and lid by submerging in water, bringing to the boil and boiling for 5 minutes;
  • Pour vodka and flavouring into the jar, seal tightly, shake well and label;
  • Store in a cool dark place, shaking regularly.

The recipes vary widely in terms of how long they advise the extract be left before it is useable. I have seen anything from two weeks (for lavender) to two months (for vanilla) suggested. I guess it will be a case of wait and see, although I’m not cerain how I will check whether it’s ready; as I recall vanilla extract never tasted great on its own anyway! If anyone knows how you check an extract is ready to use, please do let me know!

So hopefully in a month or two I’ll be making brownies with my very own home-made extracts! If it goes well, next on my list is going to be Earl Grey extract, so watch this space! x