6.12.2013

Something Out of Nothing: Homemade Almond Extract


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.

image source

Eventually, I learned about drupes, 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 noyaux, 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-Noyaux from Ici Ice Cream.  I can't even begin to imagine how many noyaux 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 noyaux 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 noyaux 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 noyaux, 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 noyaux liquor when it was done and almost fainted from the deliciousness.  Yikes.  Now, I'm turning all of the new noyaux into next year's extract.

One warning: Bitter almonds do contain a small amount of cyanide, 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?

***UPDATE: If you're totally freaked out about poisoning yourself, I've heard that toasting the noyaux 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 noyaux, 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 noyaux 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 noyaux in one fell swoop.



24 comments:

  1. Any idea if I can do this if I'm allergic to almonds? I've always wondered if I can do things flavored with the various pits ...

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    1. Bowen, I have no idea! If your allergy isn't super serious, then maybe it's worth a shot. But I don't want to be the cause of your pain or illness!

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  2. Will this recipe be in your book. After reading Cooking, I am anxious to have your book. Is there a release date?

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    1. Hi!
      I'm not sure if this recipe will make it in--probably not, actually, because it's not about Salt, Fat, Acid or Heat! But I'm working on my book full time now. It'll be out in the spring of 2015! Seems far away, but actually the proximity is freaking me out! I'll keep posting here in the meantime, and after I finish writing I'll start teaching all over the place again next year. Thanks so much for your kind words!

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  3. Ha! I just bought a bunch of apricots and was looking for guidance on how to make homemade almond extract using the noyaux. I was so happy my search sent me here, great timing!

    I'm finishing up at Bar Tartine in two weeks, then SFCS graduation. Your classes there are missed!

    Also: fig shrub in the works. But strawberry is the best one yet (http://www.porkcracklins.net/2013/06/strawberry-balsamic-shrub/).

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    1. Ha! Thanks for the kind words, Shari! Can't wait to see you soon out in the food world!

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  4. I've been saving pits since last year. I may have about 15 now... (clearly I need to befriend someone with an apricot tree) When I put them in the freezer I leave the outer shell pit intact, I figure that the extra shell will protect the seed freezer burn. Thanks for taking the time to write this post!

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    1. Yep, Melly, that's what I do, too. They are even easier to crack after they've been frozen, too!

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  5. I pitted A LOT of cherries last year and saved the pits. I used them to infuse rum, as well as vodka. Both have that same amaretto flavor! I don't even like amaretto/marzipan/etc., but this was delicious, very subtle almond flavor. I haven't seen anything about cyanide in the cherry pits, but now I'm worried (but still alive!).

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    1. YES! Cherry pits might actually be the most delicious of all! But I never dare recommend that for worry that people might literally laugh in my face. Don't worry about cyanide--just don't drink a gallon of the rum at once and you'll be fine! So glad you're using it all up!

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  6. First off, let me just say that I am AMAZED by this, so much so that I am making TWO batches of almond extract...one with the noyaux from apricot pits and one with the noyaux from cherry pits. But I have a couple of questions:

    1. In the text above, you said that you combined the apricot pits with almonds and vodka but in the recipe you wrote out there is no mention of almonds. Do I need to include any?
    2. What is the reason for using a dark bottle?
    3. Should the noyaux be fragrant? I ask because the cherry noyaux gave off a faint almondy scent, whereas the apricot noyaux didn't...at all. Just curious if I somehow got "bad" apricots.

    Thanks so much for your help...and for your post!!

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    1. Hi Kelley!

      Thanks for your comment. Let's see:
      1) I just included almonds the first year because I had really lovely, fragrant ones, and my noyaux count was limited. If you have enough noyaux, you totally don't need to do it.

      2) Dark bottles keep things fresher longer, but if you don't have a dark bottle handy, then just put your bottle in a paper bag, or make sure to keep the bottle in a dark cupboard.

      3) I'm sure your apricots were fine! Sometimes noyaux are more fragrant and sometimes less so. But if you have any doubts, then just add more pits!

      Good luck, and let me know how it goes!
      Samin

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    2. And just to be clear, dark bottles better preserve the volatile chemical compounds (i.e. the smells and flavors) of the extract since they don't let in as much light as clear glass.

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  7. I want to do this, as it's peach and apricot season here (missed the cherry season! - but I do have a question: you can just drop in the cherry pits as they are, or is there an inner kernel that must be extracted??).

    So, I'm thinking I'm going to drop the noyaux into the jar of vodka as I acquire them, rather than freezing them. I have 3 collected in the fridge already. I mean, all the noyaux have to do is marinate in there for months, so it can't hurt that some are in longer than others. . . right?

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    1. Margo, you're totally right on the add as you go theory, and as for the cherry pits, no cracking needed!

      Best of luck!
      s

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  8. Can you just use apricot kernels from the store?

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  9. Dried apricots or fresh apricots?

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    1. Fresh, though I suppose if you were to find dried apricots with the pits intact, then you could remove the noyau and use them!

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  10. Do you have any recommendations for uses and recipes once extract is ripe and ready to use? I started mine back in July and I believe it is time to dive in.

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    1. Hi hi hi hi hi! I'm sure yours is ready!

      I've been putting a few drops in whipping cream to serve with cakes and tarts. It's delicious in caramel sauce, too (a few drops in burnt caramels is insanely good!). It'd be really tasty in almond cake. I often put a splash in my frangipane that I use at the base of apple tarts. Basically, use it anywhere almond extract would be used!

      Here are some favorite recipes:
      http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2008/10/paris-a-deep-dark-salted-butter-caramel-sauce/ (add a splash at the end)
      http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/06/almond-cake-recipe/ (use instead of the almond extract)
      http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/01/salted-butter-caramels/ (add a splash along with the butter)
      http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2012/10/apple-cider-caramels-the-book-is-here/ (leave out the cinnamon and add a splash of noyau extract instead)
      http://supperinstereo.wordpress.com/2007/11/23/vanilla-bean-pots-de-creme-with-cocoa-shortbread-cookies/ (put a few drops in the custard, or in ice cream base!!!)

      I also just open the jar and take a deep whiff every once in a while to make myself feel good about life.

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  11. You can experiment with your extract! Substitute it for vanilla in anything that you think would be good with an almond flavor - cookies, coffee cake, cake, frosting - the sky is the limit! Almond is my favorite flavoring, and has been since I was a kid, so I use it in everything and can't WAIT to make my own! :)

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  12. When using cherry pits, is there any variety of cherry that is best? We have a lot of sour cherries growing around here right now. Would they work as well or should I use sweet cherries (which I would MUCH rather eat anyway).

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    1. I think sour cherry pits would work just fine! Where are you? I would die for an abundance of sour cherries!

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