Do you ever feel like you wish you were someone else? I want to be Martha Stewart sometimes. She is so rich and successful and she makes everything look so easy.
Of course, there’s always another side to what you see of people, whether they’re in next to you in a checkout lane or on a magazine cover. I’ve heard Martha isn’t always so nice to people. I don’t always love people but I wouldn’t want to be mean to them.
Is there someone whose life you would like to lead? What it is about that life that appeals to you. I’ve always been impressed with Martha’s attention to detail and her insistence on using quality ingredients in her cooking and baking. I like how polished everything is once she’s finished. Of course, she has a huge staff of people helping her. But, there’s one thing I’ve watched her do that doesn’t require a staff or a dozen extra hands: making homemade vanilla extract.
Homemade vanilla extract requires nothing but a high-proof alcohol, vanilla beans and a glass bottle but it makes me feel competent and all-powerful. Okay, I’ll say it, a bit superior too. Sort of the way I imagine Martha must feel at least some of the time.
Of course, I am confident about my cookie-baking skills and part of that I attribute to using quality ingredients. Eggs fresh from the chicken coop, and always homemade vanilla extract.
Tip 1: Use any high-proof alcohol you like: vodka, bourbon or whiskey to make extract.
I’ve made vanilla extract with vodka and bourbon. I think extract made with bourbon has a richer flavor. But, I was planning to make homemade limoncello, which requires vodka so I got a big bottle of Absolut. You don’t always need a high-quality vodka for making extract but you do for making a homemade liquor like limoncello.
I’m not a big vodka drinker. Give me a margarita or a mojito any day of the week. But, our camp neighbors last summer made absolutely fabulous pineapple-infused vodka, which we drank straight over ice with chunks of frozen fruit mixed in. I can’t tell you how good it was without using unladylike vocabulary and my mommy dearest reads this blog so I’ll leave it at “absolutely fabulous.” Our neighbors used Absolut in their recipe so that’s what I got.
Tip 2: Use quality beans
I’m showing you what beans look like because when I was at the natural food store buying them, the woman standing next to me had never seen vanilla beans before. So maybe you haven’t seen a vanilla bean either. She was surprised. She thought they would look small and oval like coffee beans.
I’m all for shopping locally but this is one case where you’re likely better off shopping online, preferably at a site specializing in vanilla beans. You’ll pay less and you’ll get a greater choice of bean. You can order beans from a specific region and a specific grade, such as A or B. I understand that Grade-B beans are sufficient for making extract. If the beans are going directly into a dessert such as a custard, you want Grade-A.
I paid $2 a bean at the natural foods store. You can buy in bulk online and get beans much cheaper.
Depending on how many beans you order, you should be able to get them for about a dollar or less a bean. You’ll want about at least three beans for one cup of vodka. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on what the vanilla bean to alcohol ratio should be. I usually go with three beans per cup but some cooks use more, others a bit less. If I can find a reliable source, I’ll let you know.
The little jars in the photo above, which I’m giving to baker friends as gifts, hold a little over a fourth of a cup.
To make vanilla extract:
- Cut three vanilla beans in half horizontally
- Place beans in glass jar.
- Cover with 1 cup of vodka or other high-proof alcohol.
- Screw on lid.
- Put the vanilla extract in a cool, dark place.
- Shake once a week for eight weeks.
- Your homemade vanilla extract will be ready in four weeks but will taste best after eight weeks
Notes: Make sure the beans are completely submerged in vodka. You don’t want any part of the bean sticking out. . After eight weeks, you can remove the beans if you like and use for vanilla sugar or another recipe. You can also strain the bits and flecks of vanilla out of the jar after eight weeks or you can leave the extract as is. I don’t like to strain mine. I think those flecks add more flavor.
Do take your beans out after six months. You don’t want them to age and make your extract taste bitter.
This how the vanilla extract looks after one week. The extract will continue to darken as the flavor develops.
Tell me what’s brewing at your house. Have you ever made your own vanilla extract or other flavor extract before?