Ok, so I was thumbing through a recent copy of Southern Living, what woman/ girl of southern origin does not currently have, or at some point previously had, a subscription to this bastion of all things southern?? Let’s not digress shall we….
I flipped to an interesting little article about making homemade vanilla extract. Now any good cook worth his or her salts (salt…so many types and varieties, we’ll talk about that later, ok? I told you, no digressing!!) has a decent bottle of quality vanilla in their arsenal of cooking accoutrements, none of this “vanillin” artificial phony flavoring business. It’s the real deal or nothing when it comes to vanilla extract.
And speaking of which—there are so many types and varieties–Tahitian, Bourbon Madagascar, Mexican…and then there are the brands–too many to name. Magazines such a Cook’s (no relation sadly) has their famous “test” kitchen which will often put things such a vanilla extract to the test attempting to uncover the best brand for use in the home kitchen.
Let’s just say that this “cook” will solve that little mystery quite easily—we’re just going to make our own—then that way, we know what it is we’re getting—no guesswork for us—we’re good like that 🙂
Now this is going to require a trip to the local liquor store. That can be a bit harrowing for some, unnerving for others and for a few of us—pure wonder and joy. Now I know what you’re thinking, trust me, I’m not about to lead you down the path of ill repute. This is where we must find the extract part of Vanilla extract.
There is something fascinating to me about a liquor store. All those beautiful glass bottles, in a vast array of shapes and sizes, all full of glistening translucent liquids in all of those shimmering colors of tints and shades. Some of my friends worry a little bit about me and this “fascination” but I trace this back to my dad, aka Mr. Mole.
When I was a little girl, each Saturday morning my dad would head out to the neighborhood liquor store/ package store, with me in tow, in order to buy a case of beer and a few bottles of liquor for the usual weekend gathering of my parents friends– who would come over to cookout or watch the latest football game. I always looked forward to these gatherings as everyone brought their children and that meant a wonderful time of play.
Now it must have been ok back then for a dad to take his little girl in the liquor store with him as he made his purchases, because as that said little girl, I recall being mesmerized by all of the bottles of colors reflecting light–as beautiful as stain glass, in a round about way –what else could it have been? To this day I can wander aimlessly in a liquor store or wine section in the grocery store marveling at all the bottles. I know–odd.
Having been an educator for the past 30 years, trips to a liquor store in our rather smallish community are akin to playing with fire…a real career busting move. Not a real good idea. One must either go on the outskirts of town, or even to a neighboring community or go incognito. A teacher does not want to draw negative attention their way. You know how these small towns can be…. Anywhoo, back to our trip to procure our “extract.” I’m retired now, it’s ok.
I knew of the traditional use of vodka, having read that cheap vodka is perfectly suitable—no reason to break the bank for this little endeavor–not unless you plan on sipping along as you prepare your recipe. Let me discourage that–wait until we finish.
I picked out a liter of some Scandinavian business—you need about 3 cups worth per bottle of homemade brew. Next I wandered over to the Bourbon section as I had read that using bourbon or rum can make for a wonderfully rich and robust extract that is nice when making chocolate things such as cookies or cakes.
But here is where I had a trouble. I am obviously from the South, I attended the University of Georgia 30 some odd years ago. Bourbon and the South, bourbon and SEC football, bourbon and life at UGA years ago… ok… well, that’s like Andy and Barney, Lucy and Ethel, Fred and Ginger—they just go, one with the other. I just couldn’t bring myself to buy the cheap stuff. That would be a sacrilege. I didn’t break the bank, but I didn’t go cheap. This shall be my Chateauneuf du Pape of extract.
I have read that you should gently heat the liquor of choice being very very careful, just to give it a little warmth as too much heat and all this alcohol, well lets just hope you have the fire department on speed dial—CAREFUL.
I also read that you should use 5 vanilla beans per cup of liquid–the more the better in this case. Oh, I almost forgot…the beans!! I didn’t even begin to attempt buying up enough bottles of the lone vanilla bean on the spice shelves of the grocery store at about 8 to 10 bucks per bottle…instead, go to Amazon (oh how I love Amazon–the go to for all your needs, digressing…) where you can find Madagascar or Tahitian beans—24 for about 19 bucks. You can buy more or less and spend more of less depending on who you buy them from and the type you want. I bought one pack of both Madagascar and Tahitian.
I bought a couple of cute little glass bottles with corks to use for the gift giving end of this endeavor but I’m using empty liquor bottles for the initial brew mix. A mason jar is perfectly fine—whatever you have on hand.
Cut the beans in half by using a shape knife (don’t sneak into the Vodka or bourbon yet as you need precision when cutting these skinny little suckers). I stuffed the cut beans down into the bottles then poured in the liquor through a funnel. Some folks say to scrape the seeds from the beans, adding them to the bottle/ jar separately–I didn’t do this–I simply cut them in half and pushed them down into the bottles.
For the bourbon extract I actually mixed 1 cup of honey bourbon with 2 cups regular bourbon. You could use just straight honey bourbon if you prefer or experiment with maybe some dark spiced rum. I may “release the Kraken” and give that a-go in a small bottle. I even thought to add some coffee beans but thought I should hold off and see how these do first. Mustn’t get too carried away.
Once you have beans in bottles and you’ve topped off the bottles with your liquid/ liquor, let the bottles sit before capping, that is if you heated your concoction–allowing them to come to room temp. Cap or cork the bottles and give a good shake for about 30 seconds. Then place the bottles out of the way in a cool, dark spot and wait 6 to 8 weeks—longer is better—I’m thinking 3 months. When is Christmas? Let’s see, if this is May…8 months—perfect. Sorry to all those in need of instant gratification.
You may decant the extract, pouring through a strainer or cheesecloth, into a decorative bottle for gift giving. I am, however, opting to keep the beans and any sediment. As you use your liquid extract, you can just top off the bottle, as long as the beans are present. You may also take out the beans, if you no longer want them floating around, and add them to a jar full of sugar and make vanilla sugar. This is what I do with all left over vanilla beans. It’s great in coffee, tea or added to recipes.
My kitchen now has a delightful heady aroma –rich and intoxicating…and no, I have not been drinking the extract!! The kitchen now just smells really good.
Have fun experimenting with additions—next I’m going for flavored vinegars and oils–ooooooohhh