This 2 ingredient recipe will allow you to make your own homemade, high quality vanilla!
I do a fair amount of baking and along with baking comes lots of vanilla. Unfortunately, vanilla extract seems to be declining in quality while rising in price. I had to find a better way. It all started while making my sister’s wedding cake. I had to have really good vanilla for the buttecream frosting. I also wanted to use vanilla bean for that extra visual effect. A trusted co-worker and fabulous baker had once told me that, back in the day, vanilla extract (and easy to use vanilla bean) was nothing more than vanilla bean soaked in booze. So I set out on my quest for vanilla bean, at first, near the office. The local Peet’s coffee had vanilla bean which was of beautiful quality but cost prohibitive in quantity. Eventually I discovered Cost Plus’ spice aisle. Good quality vanilla, about 1/4 the price. My jar of vanilla gives me unlimited amounts of vanilla extract and also provides that extra colorful fleck of color, which is always a welcome sight in desserts. If your finances don’t allow for a bunch of beans at one time, don’t worry. Get as many beans as you can and add more beans as you can do so. I add to my jar every time I find vanilla beans on sale. I almost always use Jack Daniels because I like the carmel undertones but have sometimes used vodka or light rum with good success. As with cooking with wine, or any other ingredient, the better the quality, the better the end product so the sky is the limit on quality. Don’t worry, the booze will cook out of most anything you bake. But the flavor will remain.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
6-7 vanilla beans, cut in half
enough Jack Daniels to fill chosen jar
In a hermetically sealed jar, place vanilla beans, cut side up (to retain the seed inside until ready for use).
Pour in Jack Daniels to the top of the vanilla beans, place lid on jar and let rest at least three weeks before using. (Notice in the third picture, the color difference beween my jar on the left that’s been soaking a long time and the jar on the right, which I just assembled). As you use the extract, be sure to refill the jar to the top with more Jack Daniels so that it will have time to steep with the beans before your next use. The seed inside the bean is easy to use by squeezing the small end of the bean and moving your fingers down the bean. The seed will come out the end in kind of a black paste. Once you use the beans, flip the pods over, allowing whatever leftover seeds to run into the liquid and also letting you know the inside of the pod is spent. The empty pod will still impart flavor to your liquid, or maybe even a hot pan of milk destined to be cocoa, so don’t throw them away.
Intersestingly, the vanilla pod is actually part of an orchid plant which grows in tropical and subtropical regions. It has been highly prized for centuries due to its rarity and unique flavor and aroma. I’ve personally tried to grow a vanilla orchid. It did well for a little while but I think the weather conditions in the Bay Area are too arid for growing the vanilla orchid. The clerk at Cost Plus also told me that the vanilla orchid is the only orchid grown as a food source.
Vanilla has also long been heralded as an aphrodesiac and used in aromatherapy for its calming properties. If you live in a home constantly under turmoil, try a little natural aromatherapy of your own. Fill a saucepan halfway full of water and place on the stove on medium low heat. Add in a vanilla pod (for calming and romance), a few sprigs of lavender flowers (for calming, stress relief, restful sleep and peacefulness) and 8-10 jasmine flowers (or 2 tablespoons dried jasmine flowers, for lifting mood and easing stress). Simmer mixture and let the scent fill your home. The same mixture can be used for a few days, just add more water. Once the mixture is spent, dump the contents of the pot out in the compost pile or garden soil.