One of my favorite projects at this time of year is to bottle up homemade vanilla extract using vanilla beans and vodka (remember this post?). The beans take a couple of months to steep and are ready just in time for Christmas gifts. However, over the past few years vanilla bean prices have been prohibitively expensive, and so it made my favorite fun and economical holiday gift not so economical. If you’re an avid baker, no doubt you’ve noticed the increase in bean prices and even in store-bought vanilla extracts. There are many reasons for this escalation such as poor weather conditions, low crop yield, and labor-intensive harvesting (read more here). Although some news outlets are reporting relief in sight, we’ve yet to see it.
This year I decided to bottle lemon extract instead, and for a few good reasons. 1.) I’ve missed the ritual of it all: bottling, tagging, observing, monitoring, and shaking the bottles over 6-8 weeks time. It’s a nice sort of anticipation. 2.) Lemon extract goes in many delicious baked things, especially at Christmastime (see Lemon Sparkler Cookies, for starters). 3.) Lemons are currently affordable in my neck of the woods. 4.) Bright ribbons of lemon rind tint the vodka a sunny color over time, which makes this homespun gift pretty.
I recommend purchasing organic lemons for this project, but if you can’t get your hands on any (or you feel they are too expensive) then give the lemons a bath in baking soda water to remove pesticides. Just fill a large bowl with water, add 2 teaspoons of baking soda, and soak lemons for 12-15 minutes. Rinse them well and pat dry before zesting. I recommend using a ribbon lemon zester for homemade lemon extract because it removes only the skin and none of the pith. Getting pith in your extract will make it taste soapy.
I began this project with these 8.5 ounce bottles. Sterilize the bottles by dipping them in a large pot of boiling water. Have a kitchen towel on the counter to place the freshly dipped bottles onto – although they’ll dry almost instantly after they are removed from the water. A rubber-coated canning lifter is the safest and best way to maneuver the bottles in and out of the hot water.
Decorating the bottles is probably my favorite part. You can tell from my previous vanilla extract post that I love using sealing wax on bottles. I decided to make a few decorative gold seals for my bottles since they are destined for gifts. These were made with gold glue gun sealing wax, which is super easy to use in a standard-size glue gun. The crown stamp I used can be found here, although this one with a lemon motif would have been perfect! I attached a small length of ribbon around the neck of the bottle along with the gold seals using a glue gun.
Tah-DAH! The finished bottles are ready for a 6-8 week nap in a cool dark place. Give them a shake once or twice per week for best results.
I found some really beautiful lemon gift tags that are blank on one side, so they can be penned with ‘Lemon Extract’ just so the gift recipient has no question of what’s floating inside the bottle!
It’s been only a week since I’ve snapped these photos, and the liquid has already infused to bright yellow. It’s really lovely and I can’t wait to give these to my friends and family!
Homemade Lemon Extract
- Ribbon zester
- 8.5 ounce glass bottles
- Gold sealing wax for glue guns
- Crown wax seal, or lemon wax seal
- Hester and Cook lemon gift tags
- Striped grosgrain ribbon
- Black and white baker’s twine
- 18 organic lemons
- 1.75 liter bottle vodka
- Sanitize bottles and caps by dipping them in a large pot of boiling water. Let stand on a dish towel until completely dry.
- Wash and dry lemons. Use a ribbon citrus peeler to zest the lemons onto a plate. Be sure to avoid getting any of the white lemon pith in the zest, or the end product will taste soapy. Reserve zested lemons for other use such as making lemonade or lemon curd.
- Place 1/4 cup loosely packed lemon peel in each bottle (zest of 3 lemons or .30oz). Use a funnel to pour approximately 1 1/2 cups of vodka into each bottle.
- Place caps tightly on bottles and shake occasionally for 6-8 weeks, or until lemon thoroughly infuses into the alcohol.