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vanilla extract // the muffin myth

This is what impulse purchases look like in my life: an unreasonably early morning, some furtive googling while I should have been working on my thesis research, and boom! Two days later a half kilo of extract grade Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans arrives at my door.

Have you even wondered what half a kilo of vanilla beans looks like? Well, wonder no more:

vanilla extract // the muffin myth

The funny thing is that I’m not normally an impulse purchase kind of person. I talk myself out of buying things all the dang time. But this happened, and now my baking cupboard smells amazing. In addition to the extract grade vanilla beans, I also bought a much smaller amount of premium vanilla beans for baking with. What’s the difference?Extract grade beans are much smaller than the premium ones. They’re also a lot drier, which may be difficult to see in the photo. The premium beans are long, soft, and plump whereas the extract grade beans are short, dry, and skinny.

vanilla extract // the muffin myth

Good quality vanilla extract is really difficult to find where I live. There are vanilla beans, dried vanilla seeds, and vanilla sugar, which is what most people bake with. Vanilla sugar is just powdered sugar with artificial vanilla flavour added to it, and I can’t get on board with that situation. I always schlep vanilla extract back with me when I travel to vanilla having places and I haven’t run out yet, but clearly, with my half a kilo of extract grade vanilla beans and an abundance of Swedish vodka really near by, I was intended to make my own vanilla extract.

vanilla extract // the muffin myth

The recipe couldn’t be more simple. Vanilla beans, alcohol, and time. A scour of the interwebs suggests that the standard formula is somewhere around 5 vanilla beans per 1 cup (250ml) of alcohol, and that while vodka is the most popular choice, bourbon and rum are runners up. I doubled the amount of vanilla beans in my extract partially because I was using too big a jar and I was trying to displace the alcohol enough that it would totally cover the beans (I later smartened up and just put the beans in the vodka bottle which was much more narrow. This displaced a small amount of vodka, which my husband quite happily drank) and partially because even by doubling the beans I barely put a dent in my stash. What I ended up using was about 3 cups (750ml) of vodka and 30 beans. 

It takes about two months to make vanilla extract, so if you start now you’ll have home made vanilla extract in time to siphon it in to cute little bottles and gift it to your baking friends for the holidays. It should also be enough time for my baking friends to practice their surprised faces for when they receive a cute little jar of home made vanilla extract for Christmas. It’s easy! Go for it!

vanilla extract // the muffin myth

One year ago: Lentil Loaf
Three years ago: How to Process a Pumpkin

Vanilla Extract Recipe:

You don’t need extract grade vanilla beans for this recipe, any vanilla beans you can get your hands on will work just fine. The extract grade may yield slightly better results, but when that vanilla is stirred into a batch of chocolate chip cookies no body is going to notice.

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5 vanilla beans (extract grade or other) per each
1 cup / 250 ml good quality vodka, bourbon, or rum
1 clean glass jar or bottle

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Use a sharp knife to slice down the length of each vanilla bean, leaving the ends intact. Place the beans into a jar and pour the alcohol over the beans, ensuring they are fully covered. This is important as uncovered beans may go slimy and ruin your extract. Screw the lid onto the jar, and use a piece of tape to mark the date. Place the jar into a cupboard or other dark cool place that you won’t forget about. Every few days give it a shake.

After two months (min, not max) strain the alcohol and decant the vanilla extract into small bottles. A coffee filter will help with particles in the liquid.

But what about the beans? You can discard them, leave them in the bottles (so long as they remain covered) or place them into a new jar and cover with granulated sugar, which will become vanilla scented. Yum!

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Vanilla Extract is used in such small quantities that the nutrition is really negligible. What I think is nice about making it yourself is knowing where it came from. Try to source good quality, organic, and fair trade vanilla beans, and use good alcohol for the base. Enjoy this in your baking or give away as gifts so others can know what they’re eating too!

All text and photos © The Muffin Myth 2013

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