Post by jayh on Dec 7, 2018 2:25:46 GMT -5
I kind of stumbled into making a cinnamon extract and from there into using it to make hard candy. Having started one extract, and having a bunch of spearmint in the garden at the end of the season, I made spearmint extract. Then it started multiplying. I now have lemon, blackberry, cherry, cassia, true cinnamon, and almond extracts underway, and I have plans for lime, orange, grapefruit, and probably whatever other citrus I can lay my hands on.
While I think I've met with at least some success at this -- the first batch of cinnamon extract was excellent and the spearmint was good, if maybe a tad weak -- I still have questions about technique, proportions, optimal steep time, etc. Most of what I've read online seems to be written more based on what was read elsewhere rather than personal experience, and certainly not anything like mastery. Some of the online guidance runs completely counter to what little authoritative information I can find. For instance, a couple well-meaning sites recommended using an Instant Pot under high pressure to speed up the steeping of vanilla about 50-fold, claiming it to be ready for use within a day. But one book about commercial production of extracts clearly states that vanilla should never be treated with heat because the heat will decompose the highly flavored aldehydes and reduce the flavor of the final product. If one wants to go to the trouble of making their own vanilla extract, it is assumed better quality, rather than lesser quality, would be the goal, so use of the Instant Pot would seem counterproductive.
I tried using the Instant Pot on a couple batches of cinnamon extract and can't say I'm happy with the results. With the first batch I lost almost half the alcohol solvent to evaporation and the final product, even after a week of continued steeping, was muddy and very weak compared with my first batch of naturally aged extract. If the flavor had been there I'd have been willing to live with the less than aesthetically pleasing appearance. I adjusted the technique a bit on the second try, filling the Instant Pot with water to about the level of the alcohol in the canning jar. The original instructions said to use just one cup of water, just enough to make sufficient steam to reach pressure. I theorized this left too much volume to be pressurized and allowed a lot of the vodka solvent to evaporate. By adding a lot more water the volume to be pressurized was reduced. It seemed to work as I lost just a couple ounces of vodka that time. Since I haven't actually needed it yet, I've let that one continue to steep in the vacuum sealed jar, giving it a shake a couple times a day.
Shaking is another of the aspects of technique on which I have questions. Most of the online instructions say to give the jar a gentle shake every day or two. The time varies from guide to guide, but none have suggested shaking more than once a day. The commercial approach seems a bit more straightforward about forcing solvent into the flavor source material so it can bring the desired flavors into solution. Repeatedly forcing the solvent through the material is the basis for the commercial methods I've read about. This would suggest strenuously shaking the jar for as long as feasible, as often as feasible.
If anyone has experience with this I'd appreciate whatever guidance could be offered. Pointers to external references would also be welcome.
As far as using the extracts, all I've done is to make hard candy. This turned out to be a lot easier than I imagined. My first batch was not a great success, but it still tasted quite good. Since then I've gotten better at it and have produced reasonably respectable hard candies. The one thing I still haven't figured out is how to get the molten candy into the silicone molds without a lot of it connecting the pieces together. When I tried spooning it in, the candy cooled and hardened long before I got it all in the molds. The best approach I've found so far is the put a silicone glove on one hand so I can grip the handle very close to the pot, giving me better control and easing the strain on my wrist, and pouring as carefully as I can straight from the pan into the molds. This has given me very uneven fills and left me with a lot of pieces that have wings connecting them to neighboring pieces once the candy has hardened. I've searched many times for ideas on how to deal with this but have so far come up empty. It seems making hard candy at home is not a popular activity.
So if anyone has an interest, let's talk extracts and/or making candy.