Monday, January 30, 2012
Homemade Vanilla Extract: Tackling My DIY List
I’ve been bitten by the do-it-yourself bug and have created quite a list of kitchen ventures that I am eager to try. It’s an evolving list – the type of list where you cross one item off (bread) and add two (Worcestershire sauce, yogurt) thus ensuring I will never be without a new challenge. My DIY repertoire now includes sriracha, ricotta cheese, pickling, spice rubs, cocoa mix, zhoug and granola. As I happily fill my Mason jars with homemade goodness, thoughts of, “What else can I make?” dance in the back of my mind.
When I was graciously given a stash of vanilla beans last fall, I immediately knew what I would create with this valuable treasure. Homemade vanilla extract has been on my list for some time now. I go through a lot of vanilla and cringe a little each time I buy a huge bottle of pure extract with its equally huge price tag. Vanilla beans are not cheap either, which has deterred me from making extract at home. Did you know that vanilla beans come from orchids? That helps explain their high price tag. I’ve read numerous recipes for making vanilla extract and it’s quite simple – vanilla beans, alcohol, a jar and time are all you need.
The most traditional alcohol to use appears to be vodka, with rum and bourbon following. Since I had a generous supply of beans (and alcohol!) I decided to make two different vanillas and compare their tastes. I split some vanilla beans lengthwise and used a knife to scrape out the beans. I divided the beans and pods between two jars and filled one with vodka and one with bourbon. I popped lids on each jar, shook them up, labeled them, tucked them in a dark spot and proceeded to wait. I’ve read that you should wait anywhere from eight to twelve weeks so I split the difference and waited ten weeks. I also read to add anywhere from three to six vanilla beans per cup of alcohol, so I created some decadent vanilla with ten beans to each of my one and half cup jars of alcohol. As the vanilla is used, you can replenish it by topping off the jar with more alcohol and giving it a little shake.
To taste test our vanillas, I baked a batch of sugar cookies and split the batch in half, adding a different vanilla to each. Using minimal ingredients (flour, sugar, butter, salt and eggs) allowed the vanillas to shine. The cookies baked with bourbon vanilla were the unanimous favorite. With each bite, we got a little blast of bourbon flavor that quickly settled into a warm, fuller flavor of vanilla. The cookies just seemed more “vanilla-ey” and had a vanilla punch to them. The scent of the bourbon vanilla was warm and toasty – a pleasing mix of bourbon and vanilla.
In comparison, the vodka vanilla had a more traditional vanilla taste and fragrance and was quite delicious, too. Depending upon what you are baking, this one may be a more appropriate choice. I will certainly be happy to bake with the vodka vanilla and to use it when I want a more subtle hint of vanilla. Either way, you can’t go wrong with homemade vanilla and I encourage you to try it. A more cost effective source of vanilla beans than the grocery store is to order them online (Amazon.com sells them fairly reasonably) and make a large amount of vanilla extract. The vanilla will last indefinitely in your cupboard - or not, if you bake as often as I do. And if you have a surplus of vanilla beans (a happy situation indeed) you can slip a split bean into a jar of sugar to create vanilla infused sugar. Happy baking!
Makes 1 cup
6 vanilla beans
1 cup of your chosen alcohol (vodka, bourbon or rum)
Have a clean, dry jar and lid ready (I used 1 pint Mason jars). Split each vanilla bean lengthwise and use your knife to scrape the beans out into the jar. Add the vanilla pods (push them down or cut in half if needed). Pour in the alcohol, screw on the jar lid and gently shake. Label the jar with the date (and type of alcohol if using different ones) and place in a dark spot for ten weeks. Once a week, give the jar a little shake.