Testing My Patience: Homemade Vanilla Extracts

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Bourbon and Vodka. Day 1.

Growing up, there wasn't a lot of baking that happened in my house. I don't recall my mother ever making cookies or pies except maybe at holidays. She would make zucchini bread and poppy seed cake. Related: I HATE poppy seeds. I hate everything about them and will never cook with them. Also related: I will probably eventually try cooking with them and have to eat those words.

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Every once in a while she'd use old bananas to make banana bread, but not often enough for my taste. I love banana bread and am still looking for the most awesome recipe ever. I remember often being fooled by loaves coming out of the oven, thinking a banana treat was on the way only to discover it was zucchini bread. As a grown woman now, I like zucchini bread.  As a child, I did not care for it.

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I will never forget the time I felt the universe had conspired in my favor when she accidentally used banana extract in zucchini bread instead of vanilla extract. FINALLY! It was zucchini bread but with a banana flavor. But as a tiny bit of a snob now, I have to wonder, "WHY did she have artificial banana flavoring in the house at all? Was she even using bananas in her banana bread??"

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 Ugh.  I don't like artificial extracts very much. I cringe at artificial vanilla extracts. I will never forget one time reading a post by a relatively (I think) well-known food blogger and seeing her photograph artificial vanilla amongst the ingredients needed for whatever she was baking. My mind screeched "ARTIFICIAL?!? How can any food blogger with as many followers as her use artificial vanilla?" Sorry I'm not sorry for being appalled.

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I'm not a canner or a gardener. I'm terrified of poisoning everyone with improper canning. I can't coax tender seedlings into doing anything other than turning to burnt wisps. I did grow some fantastic 8-foot tall sunflowers once. The birds were in heaven with all the seeds those produced and people walking past the house would comment on the size of the flowers. Let's ignore the fact that sunflowers have the tenacity of weeds. I never thought I'd be able to make my own anything, really. Thanks to Pinterest, I ran across a few posts about making your own vanilla extract.

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And...it's simple. Like, really, really, foolproof simple. The thought of making cups upon cups of extract myself is appealing, not only for the shiny, happy "I made this!" factor, but the cost saving factor. Bourbon is without a doubt the most popular alcohol to keep on hand in our house. I like buying new brands and tasting them. If they're not good, I'll cook with them. If they're great, I'll cook with them and drink them at the same time. There's no losing with bad bourbon. Whether you choose bourbon, rum, or vodka, just make sure it's 80 proof.

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Vanilla beans? Easy to find. Easy to find and inexpensive by the quarter, half or full pound on Amazon. I started with a quarter pound. The estimate was about 27 beans in a 1/4 pound. I received 30 beans. Some people say 3 beans per 1 cup of alcohol.  Some said 6 beans.  I went with 6 beans. The more the merrier, and even with 3 jars of extract started, I still have plenty of beans left over for other uses.

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Look at the DIY here. Vanilla extract, regenerating my green onions, and an avocado pit that I was convinced wouldn't sprout but proved me wrong.

The extract needs to be stored a dry, dark place. My three jars are in my spice drawer. This gives them a little jostle every time the drawer is opened and closed. Just make sure you're giving your jar a gentle shake once a week or so. And then you. And wait. And wait. Two months is the recommended length of time. Others say 3 months for maximum flavor. I'm going to try for 3 months, but I may give up and sample it at 2 months.

The sliced vanilla beans will released the actual beans or flecks into the liquid. That can be strained out through a coffee filter. If you save what is strained, that is vanilla paste and can be added to foods for a burst of flavor. You can search for vanilla bean paste and see it goes for gourmet prices, so don't throw it away. Or you can leave it in the extract and let it work its magic in foods.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Glass jar, pint size or larger, with sealing lid

Alcohol, at least 80 proof (bourbon, vodka, rum)

6 vanilla beans per 1 cup of alcohol

  1.  Use a sharp knife to cut the center of the beans lengthwise, leaving a little bit uncut at the tops and bottoms. 
  2. Place cut beans in jar and cover with alcohol. Remember it is 6 beans per 1 cup of alcohol.
  3. Tightly cover the jar and shake gently. Store in a dark spot for 2 to 3 months. Give the jar a gentle shake every week.
  4. After the 2 to 3 months have passed, use the extract as-is or strain the bean flecks out slowly via a coffee filter.

You can have multiple jars in rotation. When one jar gets low, you can replenish with a new bean or two, top with alcohol again and store it for another couple of months. Some cooks have had the same vanilla extracts in rotation for 20+ years.

As for my own extracts, to be continued...

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