It’s flaming hot and humid here but my mind is already thinking of snow banks and holiday gifts.
Which really turns out to be pretty handy, because making vanilla extract takes some time. Not much effort, but lots of time.
Vanilla extract is a great gift to give to anyone on your holiday list who excels or even dabbles in baking. The flavor is much nicer than store bought extract (which often has water or additives). And the best part is you can get two gifts for the price of one. Once you are done using the beans in the extract you can use them to make some vanilla sugar.
You can use any alcohol you want to make vanilla extract. As long as it is at least 40% proof. The most used alcohol is Vodka, because it has no flavor of its own.
I like to use Rum. It brings its own flavor to the mix, which adds another level of complexity to the extract. Plus the sugar from the molasses helps to speed up the extraction process.
A good ratio of beans to alcohol for single fold vanilla is 3/4 pound of beans to 1 gallon of alcohol. You can of course make your extract stronger. Double fold (which is used by bakers) is twice that (duh). I usually make mine somewhere in the middle.
Split each vanilla bean down the middle.
Open up the bean and scrape out the seeds.
You want to sterilize the jars you will be using by putting them in a large pot filled with water and bringing it to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes and you are good to go. I find large Mason jars work perfectly.
Place the beans and seeds in the jar. Top up with the alcohol of your choice (a shot or two for you is always good too).
Shake the jars really well and then place in a cool dark spot. Take them out each day or so and give them a good shake. After around a month you can switch to only shaking them around once a week.
After a while you will start to see the colour deepen. Take off the lid and smell the developing vanilla flavor. How awesome is it that you are the one responsible for this process? And how much better is it that all it took was 5 minutes of work on your part!
After three months the extract will be full of flavor and ready to go. You can always leave the beans in and keep topping up with alcohol and new beans. This is great to keep for yourself, it’s a never ending supply of vanilla extract.
If you are making them up as gifts bottle them up into cute little individual bottles. Mine are from the dollar store.
Don’t throw away the beans, they have got plenty of flavor left in them. Dry them off and grab some sugar and another Mason jar.
Toss the beans and sugar in the jar, give it a shake. After a month you will have another gift to pass along to the bakers on your list. But make sure you keep some for yourself.
Vanilla sugar is a popular ingredient in some old European recipes. I have a great Apple Cake recipe that I picked up from a co-worker’s Oma that just isn’t the same without it.
But really you can use it in any number of ways. Sprinkled over fresh berries, in whipped cream, any where you want that delicate vanilla flavor to add a little something special.
Take a few minutes now and come December you’ll be thrilled to have these great gifts to give out. All you have to do is have some fun decorating them for the season and watching the smiles bloom on your loved one’s faces.
Trust me, everyone loves hand made gifts. And hand made gifts you can bake with are just that much better.