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Friday, January 3, 2014

Vanilla Part 1: Vanilla Extract

Last fall, my mother gave me THIS wonderful vanilla cookbook. I've been wanting to make vanilla extract for christmas gifts, and this book finally gave me the motivation to do it. At first I was just going to keep the gifts simple and give out extract, but as I started doing research and shopping around for things, my gift idea evolved into something much more elaborate. I became obsessed with vanilla. I wanted to bathe in it and eat it for every meal.  I wanted it for a child so I could love on it and drink in its' aroma anytime I wanted.  Everything about vanilla is amazing.



For Christmas gifts this year, I made vanilla gift baskets. Some were full of vanilla treats (vanilla lollipops, vanilla and peppermint French macarons, and vanilla marshmallows), some had vanilla baking supplies (Ugandan vanilla extract, vanilla sea salt, and vanilla sugar), and some were a combination of the two. For my in-laws and parents, their baskets contained some of everything plus two extra vanilla extracts made from Madagascan and Mexican vanilla beans.
Photo courtesy of my ma (link)
For the next few posts, I will be doing a series of vanilla how-tos. This post will be about vanilla extract and the difference between the different varieties of vanilla beans I used.

Vanilla extract is so insanely easy to make, I don't know why I have ever bothered with the store bought stuff before. Even though I haven't been able to try my extracts yet (they have to steep for at least 2 months), I can already tell they are better than store bought.  After the first week of steeping, I smelled them and they already smelled 100x better than any store bought brand I have gotten. I could barely even smell the alcohol. The vanilla scent was so rich.

I bought all of my vanilla beans from Beanilla.com. I shopped around for a while, and Beanilla.com definitely has the best prices and selection, and the quality of the bean is far superior than any store bought bean I have gotten.  After reading the different descriptions of the vanilla beans, I decided to go with Ugandan vanilla. The vanilla that you buy in the stores is mostly Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla. You can also find Mexican vanilla for a higher price.  I wanted to use a vanilla bean that most everyone had not tried yet, so I chose the Ugandan. Beanilla said that its aroma is earthy with tones of milk-chocolate and its flavor is bold and is perfect for rich desserts. That sounded like my kind of vanilla.

After I made all the Ugandan vanilla, I decided I really wanted to make me some Mexican and Madagascan vanilla, so I ordered some more beans. After a week of steeping and being able to smell the difference between each extract (and also after a week or reading up on the different vanilla beans and how Tahitian vanilla is the king of all vanilla), I just HAD to order a few Tahitian vanilla beans and make some extract with it. Tahitian beans are very expensive, so I only ordered enough to selfishly make only myself some extract. The Tahitian vanilla smells so different from the other three vanillas. It has a floral/cherry smell to it and doesn't have that rich, vanilla smell that the other three do. The Ugandan vanilla definitely has a chocolaty smell to it. It's amazing. The Madagascan vanilla smells exactly like all those vanilla candles and lotions. It is the typical vanilla smell.  The Mexican vanilla has a more "buttery", earthy smell to it. This is what Beanilla.com has to say about the difference in flavors:

Ugandan: very bold; perfect for rich desserts
Madagascan: rich, dark, and creamy flavor
Mexican: rich and smooth with subtle tones of smoke
Tahitian: aroma that is floral with tones of ripe fruit; flavor is rich of chocolate, licorice, and caramel

So, without further ado, here is how to make your very own vanilla extract:

Vanilla Extract

Bottle
8 oz vodka
5 vanilla beans










1. Split vanilla beans length wise and open them up a little.


 2. Place in bottle

3. Fill bottle up with vodka

4. And give it some good shakes
5. Now, here's the hard part. You've got to let it steep for a couple months. During that time, shake it up weekly, daily, every other day, or whatever else you like, but no less than weekly.  To replenish your extract, once it is half way to two thirds of the way gone, top it off with more vodka and let it steep for 2 weeks while you give it a good shake every now and then.  You can do this a couple of times before the beans lose their flavor.

*Notes
-For the vodka, you don't need a super nice kind. Bottom shelf vodka will work just fine. You can use another neutral flavored alcohol if you wish. Just make sure the alcohol content is at least 40%.  On someones blog (can't find the link, sorry), she said she used cream flavored vodka for her vanilla extract and it was amazing. I will have to try that soon.  Another person said that they used Everclear instead of vodka, because its alcohol content is 95%. They said that their extract was ready within a few weeks, instead of a couple of months.

-I bought my 8.5 oz bottles HERE

- As I was making the extract, some of the extract went murky. I don't know why some did and some didn't. I tried filtering it through coffee filters (multiple times) to no avail. I even let it rest for a couple of weeks to see if sediment would settle to the bottom and the extract would clarify... it didn't. I will let you know if it affects the flavor.
Left: murky, Right: not murky

Sources:
Vanilla beans: www.beanilla.com
Pure Vanilla cookbook: Amazon

Ander says "hi"!



And so do Gavin and Kade:



Kade insisted that Ander needed to wear his new hat at all times