Saturday, May 2, 2009

Making Vanilla Extract

I am afraid that my world is becoming a little too… organized. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going overboard. Years ago, in a Martha Stewart magazine, I saw her tying neatly-folded sheets and towels in her cupboards with satin ribbon (and that has since been my benchmark of someone who has just a tad too much time on her hands). But my junk drawers are organized, my houseplants watered and fertilized, the kitchen floor neatly swept, the mirror above the sink in the bathroom polished—good heavens, for the first time I can remember, I wouldn’t be totally embarrassed if a friend just happened to drop by.

Of course, the garden lies empty. And several windows need to have the loose paint scraped off and be repainted. No flowers have been planted, either. The water lilies in the pond have to be hauled out and replanted, and soon or it will be too late. The outdoor work is suffering, while the inside of my house is looking pretty darn good.

I have to shake this asthma and get on with my life!

Today I crossed off another item on my list and made a new batch of vanilla extract. I have about 1” remaining in my large brown Penzey’s bottle, and although I don’t bake a lot in the summer, what I made today will be nice and rich for next fall. Good heavens, look at what I’m doing!!! It’s the beginning of May and I’m making vanilla extract for fall and holiday baking!

I kind of like this new way of life. It won’t last long, though.

Anyway, I purchase Penzey’s almond extract in large ounce bottles , when I finish, these are cleaned out and used for vanilla extract. The bottles are dark in color, thereby filtering light which may alter the taste of the extract.

I have bought vanilla beans from many sources, but keep going back to Penzey’s. There are 3 long, fat beans in each glass tube, and they’re very fresh and pliable. Vanilla extract, in its purest form, consists of vanilla beans soaked in an liquor base. I have used vodka and bourbon, and this time I am trying rum. Vodka appears to be the best match as it has a rather bland, neutral taste, but I found it a bit harsh. Bourbon was good, with an underlying flavor that I found quite pleasing. I am hoping to get at least that quality of flavor from the vanilla with a rum base.

Commercial vanilla extracts often contain coloring agents and, what I object to, corn syrup or another type of sugar. These are not needed, and you achieve the most flavorful, purest vanilla flavor when you make your own extract and keep it simple.

The vanilla should be allowed to steep in the liquor for at least eight weeks. The reason I am starting another bottle is because my present batch has been “working” for 2 years now, and I just want to start anew.

Vanilla Extract

Start with at least a 16 ounce bottle or jar. Fill it 2/3 with water, and bring to a boil in the microwave (you can also fill the bottle with boiling water). Cover and allow the bottle to stand for 15 minutes to sterilize it. Pour the water out and let cool.

Split 3 large vanilla beans lengthwise, then cut each in half. Place the beans in the bottle (make sure you also transfer even the smallest amount of vanilla which may fall out of the beans), and add 1 ½ cups of vodka, bourbon, or rum (with at least a 40% alcohol content). Cover and shake gently. Label with a date 8 weeks ahead, and place in a cool, dark place. Shake gently at least once a week (or more often).

After the eighth week of “steeping”, the vanilla is ready to use, although the longer it rests, the better.

Now, I usually wait until I have used about 25% of the vanilla extract, then I will add more liquor and one split, halved vanilla bean, and allow it to steep for a week or two before using again (I have allowed my current supply of vanilla to deplete because I wanted to try rum this time.)

Since the bottle is a little larger than the amount of rum that I add, I place the top edge of the label (and don’t we always label everything???) at the “fill” line, then when it’s time to refill with liquor, I know what level is to be.