Recipes @ Making Homemade Vanilla Extract

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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Making Homemade Vanilla Extract

For the best flavor in all your baked goods, homemade vanilla extract is incomparable. Learn how to make your own batch of vanilla extract.

Vanilla Extract

The smooth flavor of vanilla in baked goods can be as soothing to the tongue as aloe is to sunburned skin. Homemade vanilla extract makes a great present, especially for someone who has a penchant for baking.

Vanilla bean pods are the product of an orchid species, Vanilla planifolia. These orchid varieties are native to areas of Mexico, Madagascar, Java and Tahiti. In order for the orchid to produce its edible treasure, the vanilla bean pod, the plant must flower and the flower must be pollinated. However, the flower only opens once each year; the only known animal pollinators are certain species of ants, hummingbirds and the Melipona bee. To make pure vanilla is a laborious and highly exacting process. The vanilla beans must ripen or cure from anywhere between three and six months. During this time period, the vanilla bean pods shrink tremendously--about one-quarter of their length before curing. They also dry, losing about 85 percent of their moisture content, and intesify their signature aroma.

Making your own vanilla extract isn't difficult. You'll need vanilla beans, which you can obtain from specialty food stores or in some large supermarkets. First, run the dull side of a knife up and down the vanilla beans several times to loosen the seeds. Next, split the beans in half lengthwise and place them inside a bottle of bourbon, vodka or some other similar flavored liquor. For best results, use the best liquor you can find. Seal the bottle and place it in a cool, dark place for five to six months. During this infusion stage, give the jar a shake every few months to redistribute the vanilla bean seeds in the liquid. As the months pass, the liquor will assume the flavor of the vanilla bean seeds. If you're using vodka or other similar clear liquor, the color will darken during the aging process. After six months, the vanilla extract is ready to use. Since you'll only need small amounts of vanilla extract in recipes, it's best to transfer the vanilla extract into small containers. Clean and sterilize small bottles or jars with lids, and, using a canning funnel, fill the bottles or jars with the vanilla extract. To store, keep vanilla extract tightly covered in a cool, dark place.

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