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I know someone who makes all his own extracts. Vanilla, pine nut, almond, you name it. I was inspired to make my own vanilla extract (vanilla beans, split lengthwise + bourbon + time = literally that's it). And I decided to put it to the test and experiment with some hot, one-cup, wintery beverages!

Introduction: Vanilla beans contain 1-3% vanillin ("the methyl ester of protocatechuic aldehyde", a.k.a., the compound that gives vanilla its characteristic flavor) as well as some other aromatic compounds, which are very soluble in alcohol. Imitation vanilla also contains vanillin, only it's synthesized from chemical compounds derived from either wood pulp or petroleum. Gross. I'll stick with natural vanilla extract in my kitchen concoctions.

Vanilla extract

Lavender vanilla hot chocolate (inspired by a dear friend):


- 1 cup whole milk

- 1/4 teaspoon culinary-grade dried lavender

- 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips

- 1 teaspoon sugar (adjust to taste)

- pinch of salt

- 1/2 teaspoon homemade vanilla extract

Methods: Warm the milk with the lavender in a tea strainer over medium heat. Remove from the heat and steep for about 5 minutes. Remove the lavender and warm the milk again. Add the chocolate chips, sugar, and salt and whisk until hot (but not boiling) and frothy. Add the vanilla and serve in a fancy teacup.

Hot chocolate

Honey vanilla tea latte (inspired by Starbucks' London Fog Latte):


- Earl Grey tea

- 3/4 cup hot water

- 3/4 cup whole milk

- 1 teaspoon honey (adjust to taste)

- 1/2 teaspoon homemade vanilla extract

Methods: Steep the Earl Grey tea in the hot water for about 3 minutes. Warm the milk over medium heat until hot (but not boiling). Add the hot milk and honey to the tea. Add the vanilla and serve with biscuits (of the British variety).

Tea latte

Cinnamon vanilla apple cider (inspired by these enamel mugs):


- 1 1/2 cups apple cider

- 1 teaspoon packed brown sugar (adjust to taste)

- dash of cinnamon

- 1 teaspoon homemade vanilla extract

- 1 cinnamon stick

Methods: Warm the cider, brown sugar, and cinnamon over medium heat and gently simmer for about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and serve with a cinnamon stick.

Apple cider

Results and Discussion: Homemade extract would make a really nice gift! Just put some bottled vanilla, tea sachets, dried lavender, cinnamon sticks, and a couple of handwritten recipe cards in a basket and...voila! Gift time!



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