July 5, 2013

Vanilla.... Keep It Simple

I've seen kits for sale to make your own vanilla and was amazed that for anywhere from $10 to $30 you can buy a kit to make your own.  You buy a kit that consists of a few vanilla beans and a jar, then you buy your own alcohol.  All for $30?
This upset me.  It's so much easier than this.
It is.

Vanilla extract is pretty much one of the easiest things you can make.  It's also one of those things that works well for gifts as well.

The main thing is to gather your ingredients.
You need vanilla beans, a bottle and some booze.
If you don't use alcohol, then you could probably use glycerin, but it is sweet and I really don't now how it would translate into most recipes so I personally wouldn't, but I'm not you.
I will say that most extracts, like vanilla or almond, are best when the flavor is cooked into the recipe, and this will evaporate most of the alcohol if that is the issue.
You see, like in an herbal tincture, alcohol will draw out properties that are otherwise hidden within the fiber of the plant and releases the subtle characteristics that water or another medium would leave intact.  Alcohol also acts as a preservative and will keep your extract good for many years as well.

You can order vanilla beans online from amazon or ebay even.  I prefer Madagascar Bourbon beans for making a vanilla extract.  A half pound is a lot of beans and will last quite a while, and is less than you would pay for a kit.  You might even need to get creative as to how you will use them all.  I find that bottles of vanilla extract make very nice gifts that people seem to appreciate and use.  You can also make vanilla sugar and scrape the seeds for other recipes to make them extra vanilla-y.
The beans are naturally preserved in the alcohol and all you have to do is to keep topping it off as you use it.

To prepare the beans, I might slash them with a knife to release the little seeds inside or cut them into pieces and slash them lengthwise if they are going into a shorter bottle.  Make sure you have a good hold on one end and hold the bean on your cutting board.  Use a sharp knife to cut the bean lengthwise so that the surface is increased  and little seeds inside are realeased.   In a normal 750mL bottle I would use 5-9 vanilla beans.  I now use 15-20 for a 750 bottle as I have found I get a better end product.

And you need a bottle.  Ideally, I like a dark amber bottle so that light won't enter and possibly degrade the vanilla, like I would with a tincture.  But... I'll admit that it is actually quite easy to just take the prepared vanilla beans and add them to a bottle of the alcohol that I've chosen.

I've been making vanilla for about 7 years.  I started with the vodka that most people seem to recommend, but quite frankly, it really doesn't taste so nice.  I think the vodka tends to not blend as well with the natural flavors and essences of vanilla.
So I actually prefer an 80 proof rum.  I don't go cheap and use Bacardi Gold for this purpose.  I like the overall flavor and smell.
I've also used Maker's Mark Bourbon and it was also a nice end result, but did notice a subtle difference that I enjoy more with the rum.

So, get some vanilla beans, slash them, put them in a bottle, add some rum.  (or if you are a real slacker, just drop them in a bottle of rum).  Let it sit for about 8 weeks, then use.  Top off the alcohol as needed and it should last for years.

My vanilla stash.  Looks like time to buy more rum!

1 comment:

Beth said...

I can't believe I've never done this and I try everything at least once! so simple.