If you couldn't tell by the Halloween candy already being pushed aside for candy canes, Christmas is coming. In lieu of gifting people with more stuff (since we are currently trying to purge junk), I've decided to make delicious edible presents this year. Every year I intend to do this, but typically end up remembering the week before Christmas.
It's prep time now. My goal for what needs to get started now: (some fresh items like cookies, jams, granola, and s'mores kits will be made right around Christmas) limoncello & grapefruit-cello, spice pear vodka, and vanilla extract.
Limoncello: Easy as pie. Zest or peel 12 lemons (use organic) into a large airtight glass jar. I like to zest, so that I don't get any of the white pith of the peel. Add one bottle grain alcohol (or vodka). Allow to sit for a month or so, shaking the mixture a bit every day.
When you limoncello has soaked up all that lemon-y goodness, strain out the peel. Make a simple syrup. I do a 1:1 ratio, (ie. 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water), then Add to your limoncello. You may need more or less simple syrup depending on your taste.
Bottle your limoncello and label. I keep my personal stash in the freezer, but it can be kept at room temp. Add cute label.
Spiced Pear Vodka: I'm not the best bartender. We are always missing an ingredient or two so I sub something else and it usually does not taste good. Spiced pear vodka is the bomb, and no mixing required.
Cut and core pears (use organic). I leave the skin on. Place in a glass jar, tightly packed, and add whole spices (cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, star anise, cloves...whatever you want). I use the quart mason jars, packed tightly with pear quarters, adding a cinnamon stick, a couple cardamom pods, one star anise and a couple cloves. Add vodka, filling to the top. Make sure the pears are submerged in the vodka. Place in the fridge, and shake once a day. Taste the vodka after a week, and judge if it needs more time. Strain everything out and then bottle. You can add simple syrup to this as well, or simply gift a jar of simple syrup along with the spiced pear vodka, for holiday cocktail making.
Vanilla Extract: Another super simple recipe. Find really high quality vanilla beans. Slice a slit down the vanilla bean. Place these into the container you are planning on gifting the extract in. I do about 4 vanilla beans to 8 ounces of alcohol, however, adding more vanilla beans will only yield a stronger vanilla flavor. Add vodka for a standard vanilla extract (this year, I'm trying bourbon in lieu of vodka which will change the flavor a bit). Keep for a month or more, shaking every so often. I like to leave the vanilla beans in the alcohol, even when gifting.
Rachel Miller is a pastry chef and food writer in Phoenix, where she bakes, eats, and single-handedly keeps her local cheese shop in business. You can get more information about her pastry at www.pistolwhippedpastry.com, or on her blog at www.croissantinthecity.com.