A lot of people aren't into almond extract, and I can totally understand why. I went through a serious period of hating all things almond, except almonds. Marzipan, frangipane, almond extract--I didn't understand their relationship to almonds at all. It was sort of like claiming that grape popsicles were related to grapes. Uh, I don't think so.
Then, I went to Italy. I ate almonds from Sicily, so fragrant they'd make roses jealous. Holy schnikeys were they good. Suddenly, I understood what almond extract was going for.
Eventually, I learned about
, the family of fruits that includes both stone fruits like apricots, peaches and cherries, and almonds. I ate peach leaf ice cream at Chez Panisse. (Yes, PEACH LEAF! Can you believe if you steep peach leaves in cream they give off an incredibly faint yet delicious almond flavor?! Talk about making something out of nothing!) As an intern in the pastry department, I'd spend hours liberating bitter apricot kernels, or
, from the pits, so that they could be used to flavor desserts. I think the most delicious ice cream I have ever had is Burnt Caramel-
. I can't even begin to imagine how many
Mary had to stockpile to make a few gallons of that stuff. Because that's the thing, you need kind of a lot of them to lend flavor to something.
Anyway, usually, I just crack all of the
from my apricots, throw them in a cheesecloth pouch and cook them into the jam I make each June. But last year, I had a little stash that didn't make it into the jam, so I decided to try my hand at almond extract.
As it turns out, almond extract is actually made from
or other forms of bitter almonds, because they taste more almondy than almonds themselves. Pure almond extract is made by suspending the oil extracted from bitter almonds in water and alcohol. Since I don't have the sophisticated tools to do that on my own, I just cracked all of my
, combined them with some lovely, fragrant almonds from Riverdog Farm, poured a bunch of vodka over them, and put them in a dark bottle in the back of a kitchen cupboard.
I wish we had smell-o-vision (smell-o-net?) so you could experience what I got. Pure heaven. Last night, when I made this year's batch of apricot jam, I added some of the
liquor when it was done and almost fainted from the deliciousness. Yikes. Now, I'm turning all of the new
into next year's extract.
, so you're not supposed to eat a whole bunch of them, and I assume that some of the cyanide makes its way into the extract, so please don't go drinking shots of it. A teaspoon here, a tablespoon there in a recipe hasn't killed me yet. But no overdosing on the extract. Got it?
If you're totally freaked out about poisoning yourself, I've heard that toasting the
at 325°F for ten to fifteen minutes will destroy the enzyme that contains the cyanide.
Homemade Almond Extract
30 apricot pits*
2 cups vodka or everclear, though I bet brandy would be nice, too
To extract the
, simply line them on a kitchen towel placed on a counter or on the ground outside (I did it in the driveway), cover with another kitchen towel, and use a hammer to tap each pit until it cracks. Then, remove the kernels. Some will break, and that's ok.
Place in a mason jar or dark glass jar, and keep in a dry, cool cupboard. Give it a shake every day (or as often as you remember). It took mine about 3 months to really get sufficiently almondy, and at that time, I strained out the
and replaced with fresh ones I'd kept in the freezer to really fortify the flavor.
To use, strain the extract through a cheesecloth or coffee filter, and keep in a dry, cool place. Use as you would any other extract.
*If you don't anticipate eating 30 apricots in one sitting, you can freeze the pits until you've collected enough, and then extract the
in one fell swoop.