Just when did “vanilla’ get to mean something plain, or ordinary? Remember, vanilla is a rare tropical orchid, the flowers of which must be hand fertilized in cultivation. Only when fertilized does the orchid set seed, slowly maturing into the long, leathery, fragrant pods that we know as vanilla beans. Just a quarter teaspoon of the extract, made from these beans, can warm up a cake or a batch of cookies with the soft, silky fragrance of the tropics. Plain vanilla, indeed.
Vodka is the preferred alcohol for extractions like this, as its flavor is neutral and does not compete with that of the vanilla beans. Some folks like to use rum, or bourbon, or even brandy, to add some more notes to that vanilla symphony, but others, myself included, like to let the vanilla have its moment, without distraction. Anything over 80 proof is fine and makes a lovely extract. It’s true, though, that the higher the proof, the more vanilla essence will be extracted into the liquid. Since vanilla extract isn’t for sipping, but used in concert with other ingredients, the harshness of a higher proof alcohol, such as Everclear, is not usually a problem. Use what you have on hand.
If everyone knew how easy it was to make their own vanilla extract, they’d never drop $20 on a tiny bottle of the stuff again. Vanilla beans, though pricey themselves, are still more cost-effective, and potent, than buying extract premade. Handmade extract makes a great gift, too, we might add.
It’s part of our mission here at Mountain Feed to help you make delicious, sustainable, homemade food more often. Stop by and say hello on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest. Or, as always, you can do it the old-fashioned way and come by the store to speak with one of our in-house experts.