Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vanilla is a Mexican crop that is translated into English as Little Pod. According to some reports, it is the second most expensive spice (after Saffron), due to its labor-intensive efforts to grow and harvest this fragrant and delicious spice.

I love the smell and taste of Vanilla. I love cutting open a vanilla bean and using it in recipes because the flavor a fresh bean provides seems to enhance the taste of baked goods. Unfortunately, the fruits of this Mexican "vainilla" crop can be quite pricey. Every time I go to Mexico I pick up a large container of pure Vanilla- but I always seem to use it quickly. The prices are very reasonable in Mexico, but it is not always easy to run down to a local country to pick up a baking ingredient. 

But, Vanilla fortune has smiled upon me- Recently I discovered the wonderful "little pods" at the Costco near my home! You get approximately 15 beans for only $12! What a steal compared to buying 2-3 beans from the local grocery store spice aisle for the same price. Trader Joe's market occasionally carries Vanilla Bean paste (extract filled with the tiny Vanilla seeds) which is a good alternative to the fresh pods- but you have to keep an eye out for it- the product seems to fly off the shelves!

After my searches for a good Vanilla extract, I discovered a recipe that allows me to make my own and have a constant supply, in the hopes that I will never run out of vanilla again!  It is very simple and makes a great Vanilla to be used in any baking recipe!

4 Vanilla Bean Pods
12 oz Vodka (any type- I prefer Grey Goose, but have used Skyy and Stoli)
14-16 oz Empty Bottle with a tight sealing Lid

1) Split the Vanilla Beans lengthwise and open the pod so you can see the bean paste inside.
2) Place the intact pod into the bottle and fill with enough Vodka to cover the beans.
3) Seal the bottle and store it in a dark place (cupboard, pantry, etc.) for 6 months (I find it useful to write the date on the bottle with a sharpie).
4) At the end of the 6 months, use as you would use any normal Vanilla Extract.

*You can refill the bottle as frequently as you like- just give it a couple of weeks to set (in a dark area) between fills. Typically every time I refill the bottle I add in 1-2 Vanilla Beans (split lengthwise). This original bottle can be refilled repeatedly up to 4 years. After the 4 years, remove all bean pods, rinse bottle, and begin again. I tend to have two bottles at any time, so one can be setting as the other is being used.
**The bottles I use typically have a rubber-gasket at the top with a plastic or rubber stopper. I would not recommend a cork-topped bottle because the cork can decay over time, allowing bacteria and other unwanted elements into the bottle.

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