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.
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.