As the holidays roll around, I start baking up a storm. One of the classic flavors of the winter holidays is peppermint (Mentha piperita). The peppermint used in baking is usually an extract rather than the leaves themselves. You can purchase peppermint extract at any grocery store but if you have a pot-o-mint in your garden like I do, it’s easy to make your own peppermint extract.
To make peppermint extract, you will need three things:
- clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid
- peppermint leaves.
For your glass jar, mason jars are perfect, but jelly jars or any other glass jar will do as well. Glass is preferable because it doesn’t react with the oils in the mints like metal will and it won’t absorb any of the oils like plastic will.
Most people like to use vodka because the flavor will enhance the peppermint. Some people like to use brandy. It’s a matter of individual taste. Use what works best for you.
Harvest your peppermint early in the morning after the dew has dried. This is when the flavor is at its peak. You can harvest individual leaves or cut entire stems. Wash them well to remove soil, spores, insects and butterfly eggs. Mint is the host plant for some butterflies. They lay their eggs on the undersides of the leaves. The eggs won’t hurt you or taste bad if you don’t remove them.
After thoroughly washing your mint, lay it out to dry on some paper towels. I’ve been trying to get away from using paper towels, so I use clean dry dish towels instead.
When the mint has dried, separate the leaves from the stems and then “bruise” them. Bruising means to either cut the leaves or break them with your hands. This releases the oils that provide the flavor. After bruising, your kitchen should smell like candy canes.
Fill your jar ¾ full of peppermint leaves. No need to pack the leaves. You want the vodka to penetrate every leaf. Then add the vodka until the leaves are covered. Tighten the lid and place your jar in a cool, dark place for 2 to 3 weeks. Gently shake the jar every few days.
After 2 to 3 weeks, taste your extract to see if it is the strength that you want. If not, continue steeping the mixture until it reaches the flavor and strength that you desire. At that point, strain out the leaves with a strainer or cheesecloth and discard them.
Store your extract in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid in a cool, dark place. Heat and sunlight will degrade the oils. Properly stored, your extract should last up to 6 months.
And now you are ready to whip some holiday treats!