Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Let's Talk About Extract, Baby...

Vanilla is, next to salt, possibly my favorite flavoring in all of the wide cooking world.  Anything sweet can always do with a little touch of the vanilla, always.  Always.  If I were to have a Pwnd By Girls rule book, 'Add More Salt and/or Vanilla' would be on there right before 'When in Doubt, Wash Your Hands' and right after 'Wear Undergarments in the Kitchen AT ALL TIMES'.   There is just something amazing about what that little bean does to sugary profiles that just makes my heart boogie and my pallet sing.

However... vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, the first being saffron (looking at you Heather2021.. FYI still pissed. Saffron.).  While I might have caviar tastes, living on a single income means we definitely have hotdog money...or rather...extract money.  Even extract can get a bit pricy with liberal usage... and yeah, I'm what you would call a liberal user.  During the Fall/Winter I can, in all honesty, burn through a bottle of that stuff in a week...two weeks if I ration.  I double it in my cookies, add a few drops to my sweet breads (that was a bread description, not a euphemism for the thymus gland), drip some into pie filling, splash it into mulled cider, and then...of course...there are my various sweet potato preparations.  At this rate, I can not afford to even use what my beloved Ina Garten calls 'good vanilla extract', oh no, I am relegated to big box generics or perhaps -perhaps- an overpriced brand name.
I thought I lucked out a few years ago when I stumbled on a mega bottle of vanilla extract at Costco for about six dollars.  I am not going to lie, I busted a little groove in the massive spice aisle...just for a second.  I might have done the Cabbage Patch, there is no telling.  Bargains put me into a brief rhythmic delirium.  That is why I am slightly shocked that I did not start table dancing when I stumbled upon a recipe for vanilla extract on a blog I stalk called Food in Jars (take a look at it if you have time, Marisa is my hero).  She recommends preparing it and then portioning this ambrosia out as gifts, but I say...screw you guys, the Zombie Apocalypse is coming and I need a stockpile of extract as part of my emergency rations.  However, I will be kind enough to share the recipe with you...complete with pictures.

A couple things you should know before starting this project.  

First: If anyone has ever attempted to buy a vanilla bean at the grocery store, they are disgustingly expensive.  One...-one- fricken bean can run you upwards of seven dollars.  Turns out (thank you Marissa) that you can purchase vanilla beans on Ebay dirt cheap.  I just bought a pound of these beautiful...beautiful pods for a little over twenty dollars....including shipping.  Since you will need at least seven to make a decent amount of extract, I recommend paying The Bay a little visit.

Second: There are two types of beans.  Grade A is perfect for cooking, but you are looking for grade B...which is the extract bean.  Also, do not...DO NOT...buy Mexican vanilla beans.  This may sound like I am trying to get a laugh, but in all sincerity, they will might make you blind.  Take a little journey with me...in your mind.  Imagine you are in Tijuana, wading through a sea of knock off purses, strip clubs, questionable taxis, and little kids selling you Chiclets.  You wander into a muggy stall that smells strongly of armpit where a perfectly nice man smiles at you, offering you an unpackaged sandwich with meat of questionable origin and mayonnaise (no sign of refrigeration in the little shack) from hands that have clearly not been washed in days.  Eat the sandwich.  This is what I want you to think about every time you see Mexican vanilla beans.  Just don't do it, my friends.

And now?  The Recipe.


Start here... 750ml of the most wretched vodka you can find.  This bad boy was $11.95...quality (Funny side note: My dad walked in when we had this on the counter and was completely horrified.  I think it was the plastic... but it also could have been the massive amount of vodka.  In retrospect I should have told him it was for the kids.)

Next you do this...
Split about 10 vanilla beans.

Feel free to add the vanilla beans to the vodka bottle.  I used an airtight glass container because... a) they are awesome, and b) it looks less judgement worthy than a big ass plastic vodka bottle.

The recommendations vary on wait time, some recipes say two weeks while others say a month.  This is our extract after 1 week.   Pretty, eh?

 So here is where it gets even -more- awesome.  As you use the extract you can refill it with vodka, and it will keep...you know...extracting.  If you plan to actually use this as a gift, Marissa recommends topping the gift portion off with a bit of dark rum to balance the flavor.  As I mentioned before...Zombie Apocalypse...screw you guys.


  1. I have no problem leaving a big ass bottle of vodka around my house. So..... splitting a vanilla bean..... Is it kind of like cutting a celery stalk in half length-wise? Please video the Cabbage Patch so I can learn that along with my salsa lessons. How does the concoction smell? That's one of my favorite things about baking, just smelling the vanilla. Kind of like those big ass markers.

  2. But... is the vodka in a plastic bottle? Splitting beans, yes, it is like cutting celery stalks...itty...bitty...celery stalks. If you are going to use them to bake, you would follow up the cutting by scraping the rich brown 'paste' from the middle of the bean, but in this case you just split and toss. My Cabbage Patch does not get recorded for posterity. To answer your final question...it smells glorious...and it makes whatever you are cooking smell glorious as well. Give it a try, Annette, and let me know what you think! (Sidenote: I am sure it would make one hell of a delicious martini, too.)