By Melissa Kipe
With the holiday season approaching, I began thinking about gifts for family members and friends. I was cleaning out a pretty jelly jar and then, on second thought, decided to toss it. As soon as I put it in the trash, my imagination began to take hold. That would be the perfect jar to elegantly house some decadent, homemade chocolate syrup. Yum! That’s one present I’d like to get in my stocking!
Now chocolate syrup is quite simple to make, but in our fast-paced world, it’s easy to grab some off the shelf while you are at the store. But, like homemade vanilla extract, homemade is so much better. And, if you make it, you know exactly what is in there and the flavor options are almost limitless.
The first time someone made me homemade chocolate syrup I felt excited and loved. I mean, who wouldn’t want to drizzle that gooey deliciousness on a colorless bowl of plain vanilla ice-cream?
The main thing to remember about chocolate is not to allow it to get too hot. Burnt chocolate loses all its luster. Contrary to popular wisdom, you don’t necessarily need to use a double boiler to make the sauce—just keep the heat low. Another great thing is it lasts a long time in the fridge. Let me rephrase that. It has the potential to last a long time in the fridge, but rarely does. It’s a favorite around our house.
1/3 cup water (or coffee, for those who like mocha)
2 Tbsp. butter or coconut oil
1/4 cup sugar (adjust as desired)
3/4 cup dark chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla (or substitute almond, raspberry, or peppermint extract)
Pinch of salt
Boil the water (or coffee) with the butter (or coconut oil) and sugar for 2 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. I don’t like my chocolate too sweet, so adjust as needed. Remove from stove and add the dark chocolate chips (yummy, can’t go wrong there), the vanilla (or another flavor), and a pinch of salt. Stir until combined.
Serve warm or pour into a clean jar. This recipe makes about a cup—give or take a few needful tastings.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Making homemade vanilla extract is actually a simple process, but many people think it is harder than it is. The most important ingredient is the vanilla beans. Get the best ones you can afford which, most likely, won’t be the ones located in your local grocery store. I have always purchased mine from Frontier Co-op, but a quick online search will most likely present you with some great options.
Vodka is the next item on your list. Go cheap here—you really don’t need better in this case. Being the simple person that I am, I use the vodka bottle itself as a holding container (with 10-20 vanilla beans). You will need to empty out just a bit of the alcohol to be able to fit the beans inside the bottle. Or if you are a follow-the-recipe kind of person:
8 oz. glass bottle
7-8 vanilla beans
1 cup of vodka 70 proof/35% alcohol
Now you have two options here. You can just plop the beans in the bottle, or you can scrape out the seed, add it to the bottle, and then add the bean pods as well. It’s kind of like the orange juice question—do you like pulp in your orange juice or not? Then shake the bottle once or twice a week for at least 2-3 months. An advantage to leaving the beans intact is that they can then be used as they age for a nice batch of ice cream—scrape out the seeds and you can add the empty pod back to your jar. I highly suggest you write the date on your bottle. One of mine—I have two right now—is almost fourteen years old. That’s right. The vanilla will not go bad as long as the beans are completely covered in alcohol.
Also, you should have a smaller container that you pour your finished extract into. It can be kept on a convenient shelf for easy access when cooking. A smaller bottle takes up less space and protects your mother jar from accidental breakage. A recycled vanilla extract container works well for this purpose.
If making handcrafted vanilla for a gift is on your list, remember it’s best to start this process about three months before you want to use it or give it as a gift. Adding a single vanilla bean to a lovely jar of your handcrafted extract creates an elegant presentation also.
As I pondered Christmas gifts, I thought about how much I enjoy putting gift baskets together and what a wonderful combination the homemade chocolate syrup and vanilla extract would make in a gift basket for Christmas. Adding several pretty napkins; vintage silver spoons; a bag or two of sprinkles, chocolate shavings, and other ice cream toppings; a jar of cherries; and lovely, ice cream dishes would add to its uniqueness. Most of the inedible items can be inexpensively found at consignment shops, thrift stores, and garage sales.
So instead of buying a ho-hum—possibly expensive—gift this year, try whipping up a batch of chocolate sauce and a bottle of vanilla extract and create a beautiful, unique gift for someone special on your list.
Melissa Kipe and her husband of nineteen years, Brian, relish raising and homeschooling their tribe of one daughter and six boys in central Pennsylvania. They enjoy gardening, doing projects together, having adventures, making and using buckets of herbal healing salve, and learning together. God is gracious!