Sunday, April 12, 2009

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

Ever since I started baking about a year and a half ago, I've noticed that the most expensive ingredient I've burned through is vanilla. I just accepted this as it was, finding different varieties that I liked.

Then I noticed an article on how to make your OWN vanilla extract. I was intrigued in the way that I am when I hear someone raises their own chickens. "Oh that would be neat, but I couldn't do it..."

Vanilla Beans

After seeing more articles referring to same thing, I decided to try it. I had no idea what a vanilla bean WAS, let alone how to buy them successfully. In the few glimpses I'd had of vanilla beans, they were hideously expensive ($15 for 2 beans!).

On a whim in February, I checked the internet for vanilla beans and found that I could have 20 beans for $10.50. I bought some, received them a few days later and broke out an old jelly jar.

Here's how you do it:

You need about 6-8 vanilla beans to start with.
An old, clean jar.
And about 1.5 cups of alcohol. I used cheap vodka.

Pour the vodka (or whatever alcohol, I hear rum is good too) into the clean jar. Slice open your vanilla beans. I also found later that it helped to cut them in half, so they were always under the liquid instead of poking out. Put the beans in the jar. Put the top on.

Put it away in the cupboard and every day or two, shake the jar.

I also saw in another article that they recommended that you buy 1-2 jars of vanilla extract because you will be using them while your extract brews. Quite true. I've also seen recommendations that you pour some already prepared extract into the new jar. I don't see why you should do that.. but I suppose you could.

It takes about two months for your homemade extract to brew. Any time before that, you are just making vanilla flavored vodka (or alcohol). And while that is very nice, it's not what you want for baking.

In two months, check your extract. It should smell and taste better than what you are already using for baking. When mine was ready, I poured some into an old vanilla jar I saved. I dropped half a bean in that jar too, just for fun.

Re-top off the larger extract jar with your alcohol and put it back in the cupboard. Next time you need some, it will be there. Every time you fill your little bottle up, top the larger jar off. The beans will last for a long time.. and you have an unlimited supply of vanilla!

Also, every time you use a vanilla bean in a recipe, put the leftover bean husk in the jar! (If it was in something, make sure you rinse it off first.) You never have a reason to throw a bean husk away. (Are they even called husks? They look like one.) Don't forget to shake it!

I also threw a bean and some sugar into a Ziploc bag and made vanilla sugar, which some recipes call for and just tastes amazing on morning toast.

Now just to get around to getting those chickens...

Two Things.. Ok. Three things.

First of all, we cranked up the new Cuisinart Ice Cream maker that my mother sent us for Easter.

And like all things, I chose to make the first batch the "hard way," as in making it full fat with egg yolks. When do this, you need to cook the mixture. Which results in you needing to cool the mixture back down. A bit of a timing let down, but definitely higher quality ice cream.

In all, the ice cream turned out awesome. We are very happy to have the new ice cream maker. Since last night, I've realized there were much easier ways to make ice cream in the new Cuisinart.. so we made another less fat, no egg yolk ice cream. Which is also very very good and accepted by the children. We'll stick with that one for quick turn-arounds.


Secondly, this weekend was super baking weekend. I made german chocolate cupcakes for an order, a three layer carrot cake, and last but certainly not least - Cinnamon Rolls.

I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend Alton Brown's Overnight Cinnamon Roll recipe. Yes, it's a time investment. But like the egg yolk ice cream, so much more worth your time. Just be prepared to work on them for a while, but your family will love you (more). Lots.

Carrot Layer Cake
I am definitely not a cake decorator.

Frosted Cinnamon Rolls of Doom

Cake "Innards". So very yummy.