Thursday, January 30, 2014

Making Vanilla Extract

If you're here from the Grow Your Blog Party you'll find my intro post here. 

When I was kid I always wanted to play with the stuff the boys had  - train sets, bows and arrows and most especially chemistry sets. That sort of thing just wasn't encouraged for little girls in the 50's no matter how much I begged. All I ever got was an endless parade of insipid, glass eyed dolls. Don't get me wrong, I can dress up a Barbie with the best of them but I'm a big girl now and I can satisfy my need for chemistry experiments by stepping into my kitchen and letting the alchemy begin whenever I want.

Today's science lesson class shall be turning fragrant beans into flavorful elixir. 

This is our text book. So many weird kitchen science experiments in this book we'll be using this again I promise.

A word about vanilla beans. This is a side by side comparison of vanilla beans bought at the grocery store and the beans at got on-line. The beans on the left are grocery store beans - dry, tiny hard and brittle. On the right are the beans from Beanilla - huge, plump and pliable. Wow, who knew there would be such a difference? I'll never buy those grocery store beans again.

The recipe/formula calls for 8 vanilla beans and 1 cup of vodka. Come on now, you know me - go big or go home! I used 1/2 pound of Madagascar vanilla beans and 2 liters of vodka. If I'm gonna experiment I want it to be worth my while. Besides I wanted to make enough of this stuff to give away. 

The first step is to split the beans and scrape out the teeny, tiny seeds. There are about 60 beans in 1/2 lb. and that took a LONG time but as you can see I got it done and the result is a surprisingly oily mass of seeds. The kitchen smelled wonderful, in fact the whole house smelled wonderful for about a week.

The next step is to chop up the pods, put them in a medium sauce pan and just cover with vodka. Heat over low heat just until hot, about two minutes. Keep the sauce pan covered because you don't want to burn off the alcohol. Also, no lifting the lid. Don't want that vodka to ignite. Use cheap vodka, it doesn't have to be fancy. The label has been covered to protect the innocent.

Immediately put the pods and seeds into a clean, heat proof jar. Let the whole things cool completely before covering the jar and place it in a cool dark place and WAIT. WAIT AT LEAST SIX WEEKS.

Because it's hard to wait and do absolutely nothing for six, eight or even 10 weeks give it a stir whenever you think about it. Or not. Up to you.

I waited 10 weeks because I wanted maximum strength out of my beans and because I kind of forgot about it. Then it was time to strain it. I started out straining it through a coffee filter but it was so thick and syrupy that it would not go through the filter. I ended up just straining it through my finest mesh strainer. There were virtual no seeds left, they had completely dissolved leaving behind a very fine sludge. There might have been more residue if I had left it sit a shorter amount of time. This is ALL I got from the whole jar.

I squeezed the pods with my hands to try and get the maximum out of them but not much came out. This extract is thick and oily much more so than any store bought I've ever used. 

I got just under two quarts of vanilla extract from my 60 vanilla beans. That's right - 2 QUARTS, 8 CUPS of luscious, very strong, grade A premium vanilla extract. A stroke of genius on my part to fill the 4 oz. bottles in the muffin tin. I only overfilled one but the spill went into the muffin cup instead of all over the place and making a fragrant mess.

Now for the dollars and cents - vanilla beans, 1/2 lb/60 beans $26.50; 12 4oz bottles $33.00; vodka 2 liters $10.00  including shipping for the beans the vanilla cost approximately $6.55/bottle. Not the least expensive experiment I've ever attempted. This cost compares to premium vanillas you can buy at specialty stores or Whole Foods.  I gave some to the Hill & Dale Society at our last dinner and they seemed really pleased. I think any of your foodie friends would appreciate this magic in a bottle. 

If you come to my house and I gift you with a tiny bottle of Madagascar vanilla as you're going out the door you'll know that I really like you.

A word about supplies: the cookbook is Made From Scratch by America's Test Kitchen; I got my beans from Beanilla they have all kinds of exotic vanillas, I bought the least expensive. They also have bottles but I got a better deal on I do not have an affiliation with nor do I accept compensation from anyone these are just my experiences and opinions. Take it or leave it.

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  1. Wow. That was really interesting. I've always wanted to try that and it was fun and informative reading about your experience with making vanilla extract. At my house we call it the "secret ingredient". I would love to find a copy of that book, too. I'm intrigued. Have a super day!

  2. There are all kinds of make it yourself recipes in this book that I'm going to be trying. You don't have to make 1/2 a gallon of extract to try this I'm just the kind of person that always goes over board when I get enthused about something :0

  3. Hi Patricia, I did this myself a few months before Christmas to give as gifts and to keep some for ourselves. It really turned out well. I used some whipcream flavored vodka and my goodness, it is good in recipes. :D It was fun to shake it every morning and look at the color changing and getting darker and finally opening it to smell all that yumminess. Blessings, Bird

    1. That sounds so delicious. I've never seen whipped cream flavored vodka I'll have to look for that just to give it a taste.


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