Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wonder Box and Vanilla Beans

For almost every holiday my mother in law sends me an awesome care package. When I was growing up my grandmother used to send these too, filled with toys, games, candies and odd yard sale finds; my parents always referred to them as "wonder boxes." I hadn't received one for more than 10 years, but then I married my husband.

My mother in law has a great eye for things and she seems to know exactly what I like. For instance, this package included new tongs (which I really needed), a citrus zester, a hand towel that perfectly matches the decor of my bathroom, some vegetable seeds, and dried spices. She also put in some sugar free peeps that were surprisingly delicious, but the spices are the reason I'm writing this post.

One of the containers she sent holds 2 Madagascar vanilla beans.

I have never used a vanilla bean in my life. I love vanilla bean ice cream and vanilla bean cake. I mean, come on, how could you not? But since I've only used vanilla extract, I'm a little worried about using the bean itself. I searched for a bunch of recipes, but they were a little mundane and if I'm actually going to use the bean, I want it to be for something reallllllly tasty.

So, I was looking for a really tasty recipe and what caught my eye instead, was an article on making your own vanilla extract. And it uses VODKA. If there's Booze, I'm so in.

Thanks to for the full recipe and step by step instructions:

How to Make Vanilla Extract

Ingredients:2 Cups (16 oz.) vodka You may also use Brandy, 6 Vanilla Beans
You can easily cut this recipe in half and use 3 vanilla beans and 1 cup of vodka, brandy or rum.
You can use any kind of bottle you want, but I do recommend glass.

Cut the vanilla beans the long way with a scissors except the last inch. This way the bean stays intact.

Pour the vodka into the container you will be making your extract in. Here you see a quart mason jar.

I like to use clear glass, so I can see how the extract is developing. The darker it gets the stronger the extract is. There is no exact time that the extract is done. I like to wait at least 8 weeks.

Put the cut beans in the vodka and push them down until they are completely covered. They usually won't go down completely on their own as you see in this picture, so they need to be pushed down even farther.
Cover the vanilla extract and let it sit in a cupboard out of the light. You will start to taste some vanilla flavor even after a few days. How long you let it sit is how potent your vanilla extract is.

After 8 weeks the vanilla extract has the nice amber color and I am pouring it into small bottles for gifts.
I like to put a vanilla bean in each bottle. This way the extract will keep gaining in flavor and you can tell them that by adding a little vodka when it is halfway used up will replenish your supply of vanilla. It will dilute it for a while but it will regain strength quickly.
Some people will add some simple sugar syrup to the extract to sweeten it. . This is what they do in most commercial varieties so it has a nice sweet aftertaste. I like to use a little dark rum in my extract instead.
(1 teaspoon per cup of vodka)

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