It’s getting to be that time, you guys! Party season! Baking season! The time of year when it’s a good idea to have a stash of something delicious and homemade to bring along to parties and get-togethers and to give to people who are an important part of your life. I made a batch of vanilla earlier this year, but the time is right to get a batch started now – whether it’s for your own personal use or to bottle and give as gifts. Fresh vanilla beans + vodka (or bourbon) = pure vanilla extract. So easy.
One of you gave me a bag of fresh vanilla beans a year or so ago – last time we had a potluck (we need to do that again soon, don’t you think?) – and as I always do with vanilla beans, I tuck them away in the back of the cupboard to save for something special, then inevitably recover them when I’m back there digging for something, and they’ve gone all hard and leathery, even snappy. Not this time. I picked up a bottle of inexpensive vodka (from Highwood Distillers in High River, who recently rebuilt after the flood), cut the beans lengthwise with the tip of a knife, and poured over the vodka.
That’s really about it – if you want to scrape out the seeds and add them to the jar, that will produce a more intense extract. Tuck it away and tip/shake the jar a couple times when you think of it, and in 4 weeks you should have lovely dark vanilla. If you want to expedite the process, warm the vodka first (carefully – don’t boil it) and pour it over the vanilla beans; the warmth will help with the steeping, and you should have usable vanilla in a week or so, rather than a month.
Vodka will produce vanilla that tastes only of the bean itself; using bourbon instead will result in an extract that tastes like vanilla and bourbon. Nothing wrong with that. You’ll sometimes come across bottled bourbon Madagascar vanilla, but that refers to the bean itself, not the liquid it’s bottled in – bourbon Madagascar is a variety of bean, like Mexican and Tahitian – all have a slightly different flavour. Bonus: the alcohol preserves the vanilla bean, so you can pull one out and snip it into a recipe, or tuck it into a jar of sugar, and replenish your stock with new beans and more vodka or bourbon as you use it. It’s the gift that keeps on giving – even to yourself.
Aim for a ratio of 1 bean to 1/2 cup booze – you’ll see ratios that are all over the place, some recipes requiring massive bundles of vanilla beans crammed into a single jar. You don’t need as many as some suggest; and in fact you could snip them into inch-long pieces, but I kind of like the look of a long vanilla bean in a jar. And I’m using larger jars than most – who really needs a 1 L jar of vanilla?
Honestly, DIY vanilla takes approximately five minutes to make, even if you warm your booze first – and I’m sure I’ll be glad once we start going to holiday parties to not have to worry about what I’m going to bring along. And there’s something satisfying (and money-saving) about starting the holiday baking season with a stash of your own homemade vanilla. Yum.