Feb 10, 2009

Making Vanilla Extract

If you've read my "Scary Vanilla" post you'll know why I wanted to make my own vanilla extract. Like I said, while making the extract was easy, finding the right vanilla beans, the right ratio, and which alcohol to use was a bit more tricky. So I pestered my foodie pals (Lissah and Culinary Alchemist) over on bakespace and have to thank them for their helpful suggestions and getting me started. I also have to thank the dude (respectfully) who has done some pretty extensive research over on vanillareview.com.(wow, no seriously, WOW!)

Ok, so first I had to buy some beans for the extract. After checking out several places, I found "The Organic Vanilla Bean Co". I ordered 2- 20 paks @ $10 each; one each of the two varieties that they carry, Bourbon and Tahitian. Although they offer several grades and lengths, they were out of the Grade B beans so I purchased the Grade A super length (7"-8" or more). (Each pak actually had an extra 3 or 4 beans, so yuppers, that makes them less than .50 per bean!). The shipping was minimal, I think like a whole 4 bucks for both, and after your first order, if you're in the states, shipping is free. (can't beat that!)

They claim that their beans are "fresher" because they actually own the plantation in Papua New Guinea where the beans are grown and harvested.....and I believe them....the beans came vacuumed packed and upon opening, I was about knocked over with the "fresh" smell. Not just "vanilla" smell, but that earthy, fresh from the garden, smell. I let them air out a bit and the "bouquet" started developing. Each had their own scent, the Bourbon being a strong, lingering, traditional scent, and the Tahitian having a fruity, spicey, earthy, and shorter vanilla scent. (just as the site had described) Both types were fat juicy beans, each loaded with caviar, with the Tahitian bean being slightly wider (which apparently, is typical). They were also the perfect height for my wine bottles. Waaahooo! Score! I was so excited! (yeah, it doesn't take much)

Now I was finally ready to begin. Because I do home canning and my husband produces/bottles his own wine and brews beer, I'm somewhat of a stickler for sterilizing vessels, utensils, caps, etc. No biggie really, just throw them (gently sink the bottles, hehe) into a pot of water (I used a canning rack so the bottles wouldn't touch the bottom), and boil for about 15 min. Drain the water, let items cool, and remove them without touching anything that the ingredients will touch, and let air dry. But go ahead, do what you want, hey, the alcohol might kill the germs, but me, I'm somewhat of a germ-o-phobe and not taking any chances.

Vanilla Extract Recipe:
I used a ratio of 8:1, meaning, 8 long beans(7”-8”) per each cup (8oz) of good quality alcohol (40% alcohol/80 proof). Although you may use vodka, brandy, or rum, I wanted more of a “pure” taste so I used vodka. Of course, recipes vary and some suggest using a lower ratio, like 6:1, but why would you want to do that? After all, the whole point is to make a really good extract, right?

Next I prepared my beans. With the tip of a sharp pairing knife, I split each bean beginning from about an inch from the top all the way down, leaving the top intact. I then placed the split beans in my bottle, with the intact top of the bean towards the top of the bottle. This will make for an easy removal later. Now alternatively, some suggest that you scrape each bean, chop up the pod and get all of that into your bottle or jar. However, this method seemed unnecessarily messy to me. Besides, I was using wine bottles with narrow necks (uhm, ya). Then too, I just thought it would be way cooler to see the long beans in there.

Now using a funnel, pour the alcohol over the beans until they are covered. In my case, I used standard sized wine bottles that hold about 3 cups of alcohol and 24 beans per bottle. Cap the bottle (I used locking wine caps, used for preserving opened bottles of wine) and give it a good shake. Store in a cool, dry, dark place and shake occasionally. By shaking, you'll continue to dislodge the vanilla caviar and hopefully, speed up the process. Incidentally, you'll want to choose dark colored bottles or jars, this will also help protect your extract from light. I used one green bottle and one clear bottle, I couldn't help myself, I wanted to be able to see the progress through at least one of the bottles. Besides, mine will be stored in a dark pantry ;)

Because I'm a total geek, and I thought it would be cool, I made labels for my new vanilla extracts. But they do serve another purpose. I have listed the type of bean I used (ok, the botanical names are to impress my non-culinary friends hehe), the amount of vanillin percentage present in the beans, the type/proof of alcohol used and the ratio. This way, I'll have the recipe right on the bottle. (what? overkill? ya think? LOL)

It takes about 4-6 weeks for the extract to obtain a rich flavor, develop a dark mahogany color, and be ready for use. Although, check out the pic on the right, it only took mine a week to develop a nice strong scent and deep color. (happy happy joy joy) After you use a bit of your extract, you may “top” it off with more vodka, getting the most out of your “extract” supply. The "flavor" of your extract may be a bit harsh at first, but it will continue to mellow out as time goes by. Once the extract is fully developed, about 6 months, and as the liquid moves below the beans, you may wish to remove the beans and sediment (see now why I left them whole?). Strain the extract through several layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter and return it to the bottle. (sure, I'll post a pic when I get to that point, promise)

So here I sit, strumming my fingers.... waiting patiently. While we're waiting, here are some more thoughts and suggestions. If you're buying beans in bulk for extract, buy more than you think you'll need. (I totally regret that I didn't keep a couple of each of these varieties to cook with) The larger the bulk, the cheaper the bean. If you have a handy dandy food saver, just divide them up and vacuum seal them, and store them in a cool dark place, they'll stay fresher, much longer.

We have some of those handy dandy wine filter caps, that we use for our homemade wine. I think I'm going to buy a few more to use in the extract bottles. That way, while I'm using the stuff waiting on my 6 months to be up, it will filter out the tiny seeds and sediment leaving all of that in the bottle so it doesn't go to waste. (I'll let ya know how that works out for me)

As soon as it is ready, I'll be sure to do a follow up and give you a full report on whether or not this has all been worth it. Meanwhile, perhaps I should look for some cute little bottles and prepare labels for some nifty Xmas gifts.......


Culinary Alchemist said...

OK, I think I need to do this again... I was at IKEA the other day and they had 4oz old fashioned bottles with the ceramic/rubber clamp tops and the first thing that popped into my head was... Hmmmmm... Those would be GREAT for homemade vanilla extract... I should tell DD LOL

DDpie said...

HA! those would be perfect! I haven't had time to search yet online yet, but I was thinking about that style of bottle. (great minds think alike hehehehe)

Michele said...

I am SOOO impressed AND JEALOUS!!! LOL This seems like such a fun project!!! You're really doing a great job covering all the steps! You're very thorough! I love, love, LOVE it!!! Your labels....AWESOME!!!!


Anonymous said...

I am very jealous... this sounds really cool!! I hope I get to test out some of this extract! *hint hint wink wink* lol


Donna-FFW said...

This sounds like a fantastic idea. I so want to try it!!!

Bob said...

That's so cool, I want to do it now! I love the labels, but then I'm a geek too. :)

DDpie said...

Shels- thanks girl ;)

Jamie- I'm sure you'll get a sample (wink wink)

Donna- it was fun and satisfying :)

Bob- foodie geeks unite! HA!

Jennifer said...

I too think I'll try this....someday! It already looks good.

angelabarton said...

Hi there! New to your blog, but WOW, awesome information and I can't wait to try to make my own vanilla extract!

Jennifer said...

I just ordered my vanilla beans today!!!!

DDpie said...

Yay Jen! Let me know how it works out for ya!

Jennifer said...

I just had to come back and post how I LOVE making my own vanilla!! This is the BEST vanilla I've ever had!! I've got more going now!! :)

DDpie said...

Me too Jen, around the holidays I ran out and had to use store bought (the horror!) it was really awful compared to the homemade I've gotten use to. Just FYI, the one I made with rum instead of vodka is just as good!