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Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018
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Cooking challenge: Making homemade edible Christmas gifts

Should I infuse this vodka with bacon?

Thatís not a question I expected to ask myself on a Sunday morning, but here we are. This Christmas, Iím giving homemade gifts: infused liquor and chocolate fudge. But I didnít realize it would be so hard to find an appetizing recipe for infused alcohol.

Bacon? Pickles? Hot peppers? Who wants to drink any of these things? I consider a recipe for chocolate-steeped vodka, but fear it will look too muddy. As I scratch possible infusions off my list, I ask my friend Tori about her taste preferences.

"Now Iím very confused as to what this could be," Tori texts, clearly worried about what edible gift sheís getting. (Offer to make somebody Squid Ink Ramen just one time, and youíll never live it down.)

Finally, I settle on two recipes: Apple Pie Vodka and Apple Pie Bourbon. This will please both my friend Tori and my friend Sarah, who have very different tastes in drinks. Since the ingredients ó cinnamon and apples ó overlap, it will also be more cost effective. At the liquor store, I select the cheapest vodka and bourbon I can find. Iíll be permeating the drinks with spices, so I figure the inexpensive stuff will taste good enough.

I feel the first hint of trepidation when I leave the store. My paper bag bulges with two enormous plastic bottles, which seem more suited to soda than fine liquor. Inexplicably, the vodka bottle promises itís a "lightweight traveler." Is this only worth drinking if youíre trying to dull your senses pre-flight? Can apple slices really save it?

With growing unease, I show my mom what Iíve bought. She makes a final pronouncement: "Rot-gut." I drive back to the liquor store. This time, I select quality over quantity. I purchase a 200-milliliter bottle of Makerís Mark and a 200-milliliter bottle of Stolichnaya, both in comfortingly heavy glass bottles.

Once Iíve chosen the alcohol, the rest is easy. I place sliced fruit and spices in two large mason jars, then pour in the alcohol. The jars will steep for three to four days before theyíre ready.

Meanwhile, itís time for the next gift: Homemade chocolate fudge. Before concocting it, I ask my friends Nathan and Stephanie if they like this sweet.

"Are there people who donít like fudge?" Nathan says.

Stephanie sends me a clapping emoji.

I feel brave for even attempting this. The last time I tried making candy, my caramels turned into a nauseating goo. Surely, fudge will be easier, right? As I combine chocolate, salt and condensed milk in a too-small double boiler, I begin to question my choices. Nothing is melting. Something is wrong.

I glop the ball of chocolate into a parchment-lined pan and lick the spoon. It tastes strangely bitter, but itís too late to turn back now. Sticking the fudge in the fridge, I hope for the best.

Then I glance at the recipe and realize my error.

I forgot to add the butter.

I shriek with horror. My dad rushes to my side. (If youíre a novice cook, you should always make candy in your parentsí kitchen. Help is only a scream away.) Desperately, I scrape the hardened chocolate back into a pan and try to add butter, but it wonít mix. Itís too late. Just when Iím beginning to despair, my dad takes the pan from me and stirs with such frenzy, drops of chocolate fly into the air.

The fudge is saved.

Itís a Christmas miracle.

The verdict

Because I am a good friend and would never deliver sub-par fudge, I test two pieces for quality control. Then a third. Itís rich, with the satisfyingly bittersweet taste of Ghirardelli chocolate.

After days of soaking up the apples and spices, the vodka has turned slightly golden. I try a sip. You can definitely taste the nutmeg and cinnamon, but itís not very sweet. I prefer it mixed into a holiday Moscow Mule, which tastes extra spiced. The bourbon has a natural sweetness, even before I add the simple syrup. I strain both liquors into two glass jam jars. Itís time for gift-giving.

"Why are you the coolest person?" Tori exclaims, which is exactly the reaction I hoped for.

I think sheís just relieved itís not Squid Ink Ramen.

Contact Emily Young at [email protected]

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