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Almond extract is a flavoring ingredient commonly used in baking both sweet and savory dishes, as well as in certain stovetop cooking applications. It is made by combining the natural oils in almonds with ethyl alcohol, such as vodka, and allowing the flavors to blend and mingle until the almond flavor becomes strong and pronounced. Though imitation versions can often be found in grocery stores, the flavor of the imitation products is typically not as strong or true as that found in non-imitation extracts. Almond extract is typically used in making common baked goods like amaretto cookies, as well as marzipan, pancakes, and even meat stews.
Typically surpassed only by vanilla extract in popularity, almond extract is noted for its intense almond flavor and requires only small amounts to be used to flavor even a large batch of cookies. This is especially true of real extract. While imitation extracts can have strong flavors, they are not usually as pronounced in the quality of their almond flavors. Though this means that almond extract should be used with care so as not to make the flavor overwhelming in the final product, it also means that even a small bottle of the extract can often last a long time in many home kitchens.
For many people, the most common uses for almond extract are in sweet baked dishes such as cookies, cakes, and marzipan, but it is also frequently used in savory dishes as well. Since the extract is made using the oil of bitter almonds, the sweetness found in sweet almonds does not come through as strongly and makes the flavor of the extract perfect for numerous applications. French macaroons and Italian amaretto cookies are both common baked uses of almond extract, though many American cookies can also utilize the strong flavor of the extract. It can also be added to pancake or waffle batter to produce a unique and flavorful breakfast treat.
In savory dishes, almond extract is often associated with the cooking of the Middle East and India. While it can be used in Indian sweet puddings, it is also often used in meat stews in the Middle East and Indian curries as well. The sweetness and bitterness provided by the almond extract often play against the hotness of these dishes and provides a more complex flavor canvas against which the other tastes can be showcased.
My friend's daughter got married several years ago and I helped at the reception. Her punch was ginger ale and almond extract. It was a weird combination. She had been served it at some shower she attended and decided that's what she wanted for her punch. I wasn't crazy about it, even though I love ginger ale.
I keep almond extract, but it's very, very easy to use too much. If you get more vanilla into something, it's generally not a problem, but almond extract can be downright overwhelming if you're not careful. It can be like peppermint extract -- an accident can absolutely ruin a dish -- so you want to be careful and always use a measuring spoon and measure it over an empty container, not over your food. You might have a bad accident.