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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Flavorful Extraction".....Homemade Vanilla Extract

For something so “plain”, vanilla adds a lot of flavor to both food and drink. I love using vanilla extract to flavor a cup of coffee, mix into oatmeal (even overnight oats), or stir into plain yogurt. Problem is, that little bottle at the store is expensive! On top of the expense, most extracts have added corn sweeteners (corn syrup) and caramel color; even the organic ones just use organic corn syrup. No thanks!

So, how do you still enjoy something that is expensive and, if used frequently, doesn’t last long? You make it yourself! Making vanilla extract is simple and requires only two ingredients; vodka (other liquors like rum or bourbon will work too) and vanilla beans. An expensive bottle of vodka is not needed, but don’t go too cheap. Once you have these two things, it just takes patience since you have to wait a while for the “extraction” process to complete.

To make the extract, be sure you have a cleaned and sanitized (optional) mason jar or bottle with a rubber stopper or cap. Alternatively, you could just use the vodka bottle to make the extract.
With a sharp knife, split the vanilla beans length-wise, leaving them connected at one end (like a V-shape). Use approximately 4 – 7 beans for every cup of vodka. Yes, the beans can be expensive, but this site sells them for a very good price and in different quantities.

Put the split beans in your bottle and pour in the vodka. To flavor vodka faster, scrape out the pulp first, then add bean pods and pulp to your bottle. If you’re using the bottle of vodka for your container, just add the vanilla beans directly to the bottle. A full bottle of vodka will overflow if you add the beans; pour a shot or two, take a shot or two, and then add vanilla beans.

With the vodka and vanilla beans together, close the bottle and shake to distribute the seeds and start the extraction process. Find a cool, dark place in your home and let your homemade extract sit for at least 6 weeks, preferably 8. About once or twice a week, shake the bottle to separate the pulp and redistribute the seeds.
As the weeks progress, you will notice the liquid getting darker (wow, no caramel coloring needed!) and your anticipation building. You must remain unwavering and let it sit longer. Once 6 to 8 weeks is up, go ahead and try your homemade extract. The flavor only gets better with age, so keep it longer if you can, it will last for years.
This is a great, inexpensive gift idea that can be made for multiple people. After making extract in a large bottle, pour the extract into smaller bottles like these found on Amazon. For a truly special gift, make your own bottle labels, insert a split vanilla bean into each bottle, and tell the recipients to just refill with vodka to make more extract. You can keep refilling indefinitely and always have a great supply of extract so you never need the store-bought stuff again. It’s the gift that keeps on giving! Now would be a great time to make several batches to give for Christmas so they have aged all year to develop an intense vanilla flavor.

On a side note, to make vanilla infused vodka, follow the same process but only let the vanilla beans sit in vodka for 4 to 6 days and then remove. Presto! You have vanilla vodka….another wonderful gift idea.

Make a quick and tasty “ice cream” by adding a frozen banana with a 1/4 cup of skim milk (dairy or non-dairy) and a teaspoon of vanilla to a blender or processor and blending until smooth. Add more milk if you want a milkshake instead. You will most likely need to make more because friends and family will love this simple treat. Plus it’s a lot healthier than the ice cream you find at a store. Add your homemade extract to the milk in your cereal, mixed into fruit salad, in pancake or French toast batter, or many other food and drink applications. If using in something hot, add it towards the end to limit the amount of alcohol that is evaporated and therefore losing flavor.
Do you have any favorite ways to use vanilla extract?

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