Friday, February 3, 2012

Making your own vanilla extract -- how cool is that?!

Vanilla extract to be
A friend gave me homemade vanilla extract this Christmas. I thought that was just the coolest gift. I'd never really thought about how extract was made, much less realized that you could make it as a unique simple gift. Loved, loved, loved it. So of course, I had to set out to make some for others. I did a bit of research and it turns out my friend bought her supplies from a high quality vanilla bean supplier:

Taking a look at their website, I found not only an array of different origins of vanilla beans, but also organic beans. There were certified organic beans from Mexico and beans grown organically, according to the site, but not certified from India. In addition, they had the beans that you've heard of before -- bourbon and madagascar vanilla -- as well as a handful of others. Reviewers cited their large plump beans, and I decided it was worth a shot. They also sell a variety of other vanilla products, as well as the jars you need for extract.

There are a number of very informative posts on making vanilla extract on the Internet, and I'm certainly not an expert. One of the best I read is found here.  The important thing is that vanilla can age over years, like wine, with a little bit of care. During the initial extract, you are shaking the bottle regularly. Once it's extracted enough to start using it --about 4-5 weeks -- then you just top off the vodka (or rum) each time you use it.  About 6 months in, it is recommended that you remove the beans and strain the seeds. You re-bottle the extract and let it age, or use it. A totally wonderful "reuse" product, you can then take the beans, dry them, and store them with sugar to create vanilla sugar. How's that for fully using a product??

Making the extract was pretty straight forward. We cut open the beans, used a knife to scrape out the seeds. Filled the bottles with vodka, and capped them.
That's a pairing knife but these are big SOFT beans
you can barely see the hundreds of little seeds in there

Add vodka

A few days later we used one of our remaining beans to make Jamie Olver's Proper English Custard. My first attempt at that, having made Bird's Eye custard quite a lot in my younger days. This was a lot more technically complicated, but O-M-G... unbelievably delicious. Definitely the best custard I've ever eaten... or so I recall. :)