Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Making Home Made Vanilla Extract

I made my own vanilla extract!  Okay, well, I'm making vanilla extract... and I will be for the next 6 months!  It's a long process and I've been meaning to get started for a while now, but I finally did it today. 

I started thinking about making my own vanilla when I started sourcing larger quantities of good quality vanilla.  The problem with buying in larger quantities is most of the brands aren't available in my local markets, and I've been reluctant to take the risk of spending that kind of money for something (an unknown brand) that I might not like!  And I'm a vanilla girl, it's one of my favorite flavors.  And I use a lot of it in my recipes... so while I've continued to buy the smaller bottles of my favorite brand (Nielsen Massey) I got to thinking about making my own in large batches.

To make vanilla extract is SO simple (and cost effective), I don't know why it didn't occur to me to do it sooner!  You only need 2 ingredients- vodka and vanilla beans!

I did a lot of the research on what would be the best to use.  While some say that a premium vodka makes a better product, most agree that it doesn't really matter.  In fact, the higher the alcohol content the better, and faster the extraction.  So, no need to go out and buy expensive vodka for this project.  Everclear is a cheap and perfectly acceptable option.  I chose to go with Smirnoff, for my first batch I just couldn't bring myself to go with the Everclear!  What I used was 80 proof (or 40%)...  In order to call vanilla extract "pure" the FDA requires a minimum of 35% alcohol (70 proof) and 13.35 oz of vanilla bean to a gallon of solution.  Just something to keep in mind while picking your vodka (and considering how many beans to put in).

Vanilla Beans
The Vanilla Bean is actually the seed pod of an orchid.  In order to get the seed pod to develop the orchids must be hand pollinated, and later hand harvested.  This explains the cost!  The orchid we get the vanilla bean from is native to Mexico, however when sourcing your beans you'll be looking at three different producers, Mexican, Madagascar Bourbon, and Tahitian.
  • Madagascar Bourbon: These beans seem to be the most commonly available, and most popular.  They have a creamy, sweet flavor.  The beans are long and slender, are somewhat oily and have a strong (and heavenly) vanilla scent!
  • Mexican: The second most common beans...  They are said to be similar to Madagascar Bourbon beans, but a bit more mellow and have a bit of spicy and "woody" flavor.
  • Tahitian: I hadn't even heard of Tahitian vanilla until I started my research.  From what I read it is more commonly used in larger commercial or "industrial" batch cooking or baking.  You can certainly find these beans to make your own small batches of vanilla.  These beans are supposed to have a bit of a floral aroma.
I chose to go with the Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans.  While I am intrigued by Mexican vanilla and would really like to try it someday, I decided to stick with what I am used to for this first batch.  Regardless of which variety you chose, you should pick beans that have a strong scent, are slightly oily and nice and plump.

You can buy your beans a wide variety of places, I would avoid purchasing them at the grocery store where you might spend $10 for one or two beans!  Just do a little research to find a reputable dealer that has a great price.  You can sometimes find them at farmers markets but there are a great deal of online retailers.  I got mine on amazon.com from JR Mushrooms & Specialties and I think I spent about $12 for 16 beans.

As far as how many beans you need for your extract, again, there were varying opinions about this.  Most consistently though, it is suggested to use 3 beans per cup of vodka.  As I said, I use a lot of vanilla, so I used a 750ml bottle of vodka which is approximately 3 cups, so I used 12 beans (plus I put in 2 whole beans, I saw on a cooking show the delicious vanilla bean paste scraped out of the pods and I use vanilla beans a lot in my baking).

So, here is my quick slideshow tutorial of how to make vanilla extract!

I am SO looking forward to trying this in 6 months... it's going to be a loooong 6 months, I'll probably start another bottle in a few months so I always have some "brewing."

Happy Caking :)

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