Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Too good not to share.

Since I've been so lazy in posting, I'm going to buck the "Wordless Wednesday" trend and actually post something useful. 

Last year, Brett and I had a lot of fun making Christmas gifts from scratch: knitting (well, that was just me!), making ornaments, and brewing up our own versions of Limoncello and Bailey's liquors. This year, money will be significantly tighter- meaning that we will again be looking to make the majority of our gifts.

Bearing in mind that many homemade projects take some time, I was skimming the internet for ideas last week when I stumbled across an awesome idea: homemade vanilla extract! 

Now, those of us who bake know that *real* vanilla extract is expensive but irreplaceable in recipes. I learned, however, that making your own is both inexpensive and easy. Additionally, you can have fun mixing various liquors with many varieties of bean to create different flavors. The result? A Christmas gift perfect for the bakers in your family that beats the store-bought stuff and is relatively cheap to boot. The only drawback is that it requires preplanning- vanilla extract takes a minimum of 8 weeks to develop, with many recipes recommending upwards of 6 months! So if you want to get started, now's the time. 

I found lots of primers online, and a few different suggestions for how to brew the stuff. Essentially, you'll need 3 things:

1. Liquor- vodka is most often used, but bourbon and rum were also suggested. Basically it just needs to be at least 40 proof (80% alcohol) to be effective. I decided to try a dark rum. 
2. Vanilla beans- I found mine on Amazon, but look around to find a good deal. Most of the tutorials I found said you'd need roughly 3-4 beans per cup of liquor, but some people claim they made it successfully with fewer beans and a longer brew time. I filled two quart jars mostly full using 3 cups of liquor and 12 vanilla beans each- for a total of 6 cups of liquor and 24 beans (close to a 1/4 lb). Since vanilla beans are generally sold in 1/4 lb increments, this worked out perfected for me. 
3. Something to brew the extract in. I think mason jars are perfect! You can divide it up into smaller decorative containers and add cutesy decorative stickers when you're ready to give them.

The process:

1. Slit vanilla beans lengthwise. Some recipes recommended scooping the seeds out into the jars as well, but that would require further straining, and I'm lazy.
2. Place vanilla beans in jars or container you're using. 
3. Cover with the appropriate amount of liquor (you may need to cut the beans in half), cover, and put in a cool, dark spot.
4. Wait.

Miscellaneous notes:

- I made a jar for us as well, as we go through a LOT of vanilla around here. I actually read that you can keep the vanilla indefinitely, topping off with alcohol as it gets low and adding additional beans once in a while. 
- After the vanilla is ready, you can remove the beans if you wish and place them in sugar for a few days. Voila- vanilla sugar! 

Helpful links:
Joy the Baker
Naturally Knocked Up
Alexandra Cooks

If you decide to try it, be sure to let me know what combination of beans and liquor you used, and how it turned out.


Elizabeth Storch said...

What a neat idea! I would have gone with a dark rum as well. Let me know how it turns out!

Jenny said...

Catching up on your blog! We bought a BIG bottle of vodka, split some beans we got a great deal on in a co-op, and dropped them directly into the bottle (after pouring a bit of vodka out to prevent overflow). It's been steeping for months and we use it frequently for baking. Recently, we got another bottle of vodka to top it off, threw several more beans in, and will pour some into little bottles to use as gifts. We'll probably start a new bottle soon. I sure hope I can get into another co-op because this has allowed me to pour a generous glug of vanilla into recipes, and I think it really makes them better!