homemade orange extract

homemade orange extract

I can never find natural extracts (except for vanilla) in my area of the world, so one fine day I finally gave up and went all geeky to make my own! It's also way cheap and also a great way to use up orange peels that might otherwise get tossed out. So there I was opening up my old box of school stuff, rummaging through my old food biochemistry notes from grad school and boy was I hit with a moment of nostalgia! I remembered the times when we learned how to extract pectin from apples and oranges, corn starch from corn, essential oils from plants by distillation. Those were some fun times, especially for me since I love food and the science behind cooking.

homemade orange extract for baking

This is my simplified version of preparing an orange extract for flavoring purposes. I recommend using a good quality unflavored 40% vodka while preparing this, there are two reasons for this, you need both water and alcohol to extract the flavors in the peels but using water also helps to extract aromatic compounds from the orange that will remain behind in the baked goods. If you use pure 100% alcohol, most of the stuff extracted will evaporate during the high heat temperatures. 

homemade orange extract prep

I prefer doing a warm extraction of the peels, I find the flavors to be much more complex and stronger. To be safe, I recommend warming the vodka in a water bath that is not on a stove or near any fire source. As soon as the warmed vodka hits the peels the extraction process will begin. I leave the peels in the jar for a prettier effect and store the extract in the refrigerator. Also, the fresher the oranges the better the flavors extracted so I prefer to extract my oranges the day I buy them. You could also divide the extract into tinier vials for storage and or as gifts.

Amber colored glass bottles are the best way to store most extracts, if you can't find them just cover your regular glass bottle/vial with aluminum foil to reduce the exposure to light. Light tends to breakdown the compounds in the extract, so limited exposure to light increases the quality and shelf life.
homemade orange extract baking

homemade orange extract

yields: approximately 150 ml


2 large navel oranges or 3 ounces fresh orange peel
a bowl or saucepan halfway filled with boiling water
150ml 40% unflavored organic vodka (you might need a little more depending on the shape and size of your jar) + a little extra vodka to rinse the canning jar

1. Sterilize a clean 7.5 fluid ounces (~200ml) canning jar and lid with boiling water. Remove and keep covered with a clean cloth or paper towel until ready to fill the jar.
2. Place the 150ml vodka in heatproof jar and seal the lid with cling film. Then place the jar in the bowl containing the boiling water. Allow the vodka to warm for about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. 
2. Rinse the oranges under cold running water. Gently, pat them dry with a clean paper towel. Peel the oranges and using a sharp knife julienne the peels into thin 2 inch sections.
3. Rinse the canning jar with the little extra vodka and discard the liquid. Stuff the jar with the cut orange peels. Fill the jar with prewarmed 150ml vodka or until the peels are completely covered with the vodka.
4. Seal the jar with the lid and tighten. Shake the contents of the jar vigorously for a few seconds. Place the jar in the refrigerator for 1 week and shake once every day. The extract is ready to use after one week. You can store the extract in the same jar or divide and transfer the liquid into smaller airtight jars or vials. The extract can be stored in the refrigerator or in a cool dark place.

black peppercorn and orange steamed pudding

black peppercorn orange steamed pudding

I watch a lot of British television shows and it's pretty common for me to have my television, set to the local PBS UK station or the BBCA. I sometimes even leave the television on when I'm working on my blog, that is also how I first discovered Downton Abbey a few years back, one Sunday night while watching the PBS Masterpiece Theater series. The fact that the show is a period piece makes it particularly fascinating since I am a big history buff plus the Dowager Countess, Lady Violet with her witty barbs makes the show even more entertaining. 

I am very fond of steamed English puddings so I thought why not make something special to commemorate the start of the new season and dedicate it to one of my favorite characters on the show. Just like Lady Violet, this steamed pudding is bursting with fresh orange flavor and yet has an unexpected but pleasantly surprising hint of heat from the black pepper. There's a generous dash of honey that serves as a sweet sauce for each warm pudding without making the pudding too saucy or very sweet. I think these individual size puddings are going to fit right in for the the little viewing party, I'm hosting for a few of my friends.

I don't own a pudding basin and if you don't have one either, don't worry, I have an easy solution for you. This is the perfect way to use one of your extra unused canning jars from your pantry. I selected the 4-4.5 oz jars that I use to store jams and preserves and they work really well. I've also listed out special instructions in the recipe, on how to work with both the Weck and Ball brands of jars. (The photograph below shows how I fixed the lids for steaming).

black pepper corn and orange steamed pudding jars

To share the excitement, Carrie of Bakeaholic Mama is hosting a fun giveaway with a bunch of amazing bloggers. The extremely popular Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook and coffee mug are all up for grabs starting today! To participate and enter, simply follow the instructions on the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post. Good luck and have fun!

black peppercorn and orange steamed pudding

yields: 8 individual puddings

special equipment: 8 X 4.5 oz Weck canning jars/ 8 X 4 oz Ball Mason jars


1/2 cup (1 stick / 4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature + extra unsalted butter for greasing jars
1 1/4 cups (8 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup (8 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons honey + 8 (generous) teaspoons honey
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon orange zest, fresh + a little extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorn, freshly ground

1. On a sheet of parchment paper draw and cut out circles that will fit the inside bottom of the canning jars. Grease the inside of each jar with the extra unsalted butter. Place one of the parchment paper circles at the bottom of each jar. Keep the jars aside until ready to fill with the pudding batter.
2. Sift the flour and baking powder three times and keep aside. 
3. Place the stick of butter, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of honey in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar at medium low speed for 5 minutes until completely smooth. 
4. Beat in one egg at a time, until completely blended. 
5. After all the eggs are mixed in, add the orange zest and the black peppercorn and mix on medium-low speed for 20 seconds.
6. Add the sifted flour to the batter and mix at medium-low speed for about 1 minute or until completely mixed and no flecks of flour can be observed.
7. Place one teaspoon of honey in each jar. Then using a tablespoon, scoop out the batter into each jar and fill them up to 1/4 the height of the jar.  Smooth the surface of the batter in each jar with the back of the spoon. 
For Weck Jars:  Place the glass lid on top of the mouth of the jar and firmly with the clips. You do not need to use the rubber seals, only the metal clips.
For Ball Jars: If you are using the Ball jars, then place a precut square of aluminum foil over the mouth of each jar and then lightly tighten the foil using the appropriately sized bands. Make a tiny hole with a skewer in the center of the aluminum sheet of each jar. 
8. Place the jars in a large stockpot that has a lid. Fill the stockpot with enough water to come up halfway up the side of the jars. Place the lid on the stockpot and steam for 1 hour and 30 minutes or until the puddings have risen completely and look spongy from outside and the pudding should not move when the jar is tilted slightly. To ensure that the puddings are completely cooked, remove one jar and open the lid. The pudding will have risen and the center should be firm and spongy to touch or a skewer when inserted should come out clean through the center of the pudding. If they are not cooked then seal as before and return the puddings to the stockpot and cook until done. 
9. To serve, open the lid of the hot cooked pudding. Run the flat end of a butter knife around the edges of the pudding carefully. Place a serving plate on the top of the mouth of the jar and then flip the jar. The pudding will be released on to the plate.  Peel the parchment paper off the top of the pudding and discard. Before serving, I like to serve this warm pudding garnished with a little extra fresh orange zest. 

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Disclaimer: This post is in no way sponsored by the Official Downton Abbey/ Weck Jars/ Ball Jars. 

orange and fennel semolina cake

I have a citrus addiction, limes, lemons, sweet limes, oranges, blood oranges, etc. There is something wonderful about the fragrant smell of citrus plants and trees. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I remember urging my father to pick me a little lime plant. The poor lime plant didn't last for more than a few months but it gave me one of my fondest scented childhood memories. I would rub the leaves of the lime plant between my palms and sniff the scent off my fingers. It was simply heavenly and these days I really wish I could grow some in the garden

On our way back from a quick trip to the beach last weekend, we stopped by a market in North Carolina where I was surprised to find some fresh oranges. I am not sure if they were local but they were delicious. Needless to say, I couldn't resist and picked up a few among other things to bring home. They had some interesting items, especially a "Moonshine Jelly". I am not sure what one does with this, do you just use this as a regular preserve or jelly? I think a scoop of that for breakfast might lead to a very interesting day. I stayed away from it and went with some huckleberry preserves, black raspberry jams, and honey.

One of my favorite types of cakes are the semolina-based cakes that are popular in Mediterranean and Indian desserts. Fresh, firm, and ripe oranges give this cake its taste and aroma. I made a light honey based glaze infused with orange zest and freshly ground fennel seeds to pour on top of the cake. The orange by itself lends a very delicate flavor in this cake and a tiny bit of fennel seeds aids in giving a bit of flavor without being overpowering. Fennel seeds have a sweet anise or licorice like taste and are served after a meal in Indian cuisine to freshen the breath.

I've had many disasters with bundt pans in the past but after much trial and error and advice from an expert, this strategy always seems to work. A silicone bundt pan is great and you don't need to grease it too much before use. However, the real trick is to invert the cake while it is still hot in the pan onto a flat surface like a plate. The steam will push the cake away from the pan and the cooled cake will come off without breaking. This is one of those moments where I feel like saying "Voilà!" as the revelation occurs. Now, if only I could grow an orange plant here in Zone 7! 

orange and fennel semolina cake


for the orange glaze syrup

1.5 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground fennel 
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange blossom honey or regular honey
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon cointreau or any other orange flavored liquor

for the cake

6 eggs
3 cups semolina
1 cup flour
3 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1.5 cups sugar
3 sticks chopped unsalted butter at room temperature
2 tablespoons freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Bundt pan greasing mixture

1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

To prepare the glaze, combine all the ingredients except for the cointreau/liquor. Bring the contents to a gentle simmer in a thick bottomed pot and stir constantly until the volume reduces to half and the sauce begins to thicken and turn golden . This should take about 15 minutes. Once thickened, remove the sauce from the stove and add the cointreau. Allow to cool to room temperature before adding it to the cake. If the sauce gets too thick and hard to pour, then place the container in tub of warm water to loosen it up and then pour it on the cake.

Grease a bundt pan well with the greasing mixture (simply mix the three ingredients listed and use) using a basting brush.

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients - semolina, flour, baking soda, and fennel seeds. Keep this aside. In another large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar using an electric blender or whisk. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time till combined. Add the orange juice and the zest to the batter and beat it for another 20 seconds. Add one cup of the dry ingredients to the batter and beat until completely blended. Repeat this till the rest of the dry ingredients have been incorporated into the batter. Pour into the greased bundt pan and shake it very gently to make sure the batter spreads evenly into the pan. (Don't shake or tap it too much or the air bubbles that you whisked in will be lost.) Bake for about 30-40 minutes in the preheated oven till the surface is golden brown or until a skewer/knife comes out clean from the center of the cake. Once the cake is  baked, remove the bundt pan with the hot cake still in it from the oven. Immediately place a sheet of baking paper on top of the cake and invert the bundt pan with the baking paper onto a clean flat plate. Let the bundt pan with the cake rest and come to room temperature. When the cake is cooled completely, tap the top of the bundt pan gently and remove the pan. The cake will be left behind sitting on the paper. Pour the orange glaze on top of the cake and allow it to fall from the sides. This cake can be served at room temperature or even slightly warm with a cup of  hot coffee or tea.