Monthly Archives: July 2012

making vanilla extract, vanilla sugar, vanilla bean paste and vanilla salt

Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world due to a labor-intensive and time-consuming process and as a result, most of the vanilla flavouring consumed today is a synthetic imitation of the real spice. Vanilla has a distinctive flavour (Vanillin), but is also noted for more complex aromas which are described as… honey and caramel-like, smokey, earthy, woody and floral, naming a few… all which contribute richness, warmth and depth of flavour to almost any food that vanilla is added too! Having a continuous supply of pure vanilla flavour at home for all your culinary needs is easy… few ingredients are required… with a little patience thrown in!

Making your own vanilla extract, whole vanilla bean paste, vanilla sugar, vanilla infused olive oil and vanilla salt requires the use of whole vanilla beans… purchased at supermarket prices would make all the above costly! Bulk buying different varieties and grades of vanilla beans (Madagascar, Tahitian, Indonesian, Indian, and Mexican) on-line from a reliable source like Beanilla or Amazon is much more cost-effective! The Island of Bali in Indonesia has been a holiday destination for our family over the years and I have always brought back a supply of whole vanilla beans which always get put to good use in the kitchen! Regardless of where your vanilla beans come from, they all should be soft and pliable with a dark skin.

Because of cultural and religious backgrounds some people will not use pure vanilla extract in cooking and baking as it contains alcohol, which is prohibited! Being sensitive to this issue using the home-made vanilla sugar and pastes means that pure vanilla flavour can be enjoyed by all. The recipes below are only guides and can all be taken with a pinch of vanilla... I mean salt! Feel free to experiment ( or check other recipes) with the strength of vanilla flavour in each recipe… taste is personal!

Vanilla Extract: Pure vanilla extract must contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of liquid and contain 35% alcohol… according to US Food and Drug Administration regulations! So rounding that equation roughly (you can be more precise if you like), would mean almost one ounce of vanilla beans are required for each cup of liquid! Depending on the grade and moisture content of the vanilla beans, you might use( approximately)  7 to 10 vanilla beans per cup (250ml) of liquid and this is for a single strength vanilla extract! With the above in mind…  some recipes have suggested 1 or 2 vanilla beans per cup of liquid and in my experience this will not yield a strong vanilla extract! As alcohol is needed to extract the vanilla flavour use vodka (min 35%), as it is a neutral spirit!

Home-made Vanilla Extract


  • 1oz (25g) vanilla beans (approx. 7 to 10)(a few more if you like)
  • 250ml vodka
  • 6 months of patience

How to make: With the tip of a sharp knife, slit the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle, exposing all the tiny seeds. Place the vanilla beans into a clean sterilized  bottle or jar, pour in the vodka to completely cover all the vanilla beans. You might need to half the vanilla beans, depending on the size of bottle or jar being used.

Cover with a tight-fitting lid and shake, this will release some of the tiny vanilla seeds and  help the flavour extraction process. Sore in a cool dark cupboard and for the first week shake the contents of the bottle each day for the first week. Afterwards shake the bottle once a week for the next month or every now and then if you remember!  Leave to mature for 6 months before using, during this time the alcohol smell and taste will mellow and the vanilla flavour will develop!

Tip: When I need some vanilla beans as a garnish… remove a vanilla bean from the bottle of vanilla extract, dry with some kitchen paper, cut into thin strips and place on top of desserts, ice-cream, cupcakes and also add some to mulled wines!

Adding more vanilla beans and topping up with more vodka to a dwindling (all ready matured)  supply of vanilla extract is not something I do… I prefer to start the whole process again using new vanilla beans.

Vanilla Sugar


  • 2 vanilla beans, split lengthways
  • 500g caster sugar

How to make: Simply place the 2 vanilla beans and the sugar into a clean sterilized  jar, making sure the vanilla beans are covered completely with the sugar. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and leave the sugar and vanilla to infuse for about a week before using. The sugar will be perfumed with a subtle flavour of vanilla. Overtime the vanilla beans become dry and brittle so you can remove them from the jar, replace with a new vanilla bean and top up with more sugar, if liked.


Concentrated Vanilla Sugar


  • 3 vanilla beans
  • 100g granulated sugar

How to make: Cut the vanilla beans into small pieces using scissors and place into a small food processor along with the sugar. Process until finely ground, then pass through a fine sieve, return any bits that did not pass through the sieve back into the spice grinder. Repeat the process again or until all the vanilla and sugar has been finely ground. Place into a clean sterilized jar and cover with a tight-fitting lid, leaving the vanilla and sugar to infuse for a week before using. This sugar will have a strong vanilla flavour which you can dilute (the flavour) by mixing a couple of teaspoons of concentrated vanilla sugar with other sugars… icing sugar, brown sugar or caster sugar, for an instant vanilla sugar.

Pure Vanilla Powder: Some of the vanilla beans that I had were a tad on the dry side and not as pliable as before which makes them ideal for grinding into a fairly fine powder, which I used for the vanilla bean paste and vanilla salt!  Cut the required amount of vanilla beans into small pieces using scissors and place into a spice grinder. Grind the vanilla beans into a fine powder, then pass through a fine sieve, return any bits that did not pass through the sieve back into the spice grinder. Repeat the process again or until all the vanilla beans have been finely ground.

Whole Vanilla Bean Paste


  • 50g sugar (use vanilla sugar if you have already made some)
  • 50ml water
  • 1/4 teaspoon corn syrup (optional)(helps stop sugar crystals forming)
  • 4 vanilla beans, finely ground

How to make: Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in a small saucepan and place over a low heat, stir with a wooden spoon until all the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and bring the syrup to a boil for about a minute. Remove from the heat and cool. Pour the cooled syrup into a clean sterilized jar and stir in the powdered vanilla beans. Cover with a lid and store in the refrigerator, leave for a couple of days before using. Use within six weeks. If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract use 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla paste instead.

Vanilla Salt


  • 4 tablespoons of gourmet sea salt, Fleur De Sel de Camargue or Maldon
  • 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla powder

How to make: Mix salt and vanilla powder together and place into a small sterilized jar and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Store in an airtight container leaving the salt and vanilla to infuse for one week before using.

Add a little vanilla saltness to your food… use as a garnish or sprinkle over foods just before serving on nuts, caramel flavored sweets, cookies, ice cream, macarons, scrambled eggs, quiche,canapes, grilled prawns and scallops are just a few ideas!

 Do you make your own vanilla extract?  Have you any great ideas for using whole vanilla beans?

turkish rice pudding – sütlac

Cooked on a stove top or baked in an oven, eaten hot or cold, rice pudding is enjoyed all over the globe. The basic ingredients for this simple but wholesome dessert are similar… rice, milk/water and sugar, but it is the variations, flavourings and additions by different cultures that give each rice pudding its own characteristic taste. The rice pudding I knew and loved when growing up was made using milk, sugar and raisins, sometimes enriched with cream and egg yolks and then baked in the oven… comfort food at its best!

Last month Suzanne Husseini visited Bahrain at Words Bookstore Café promoting her cookbook… Modern Flavours of Arabia “when suzanne cooks” and her delicious version of rice pudding is flavoured with rosewater, orange blossom water and the seeds of a vanilla pod, served with a Date Compote.

Inspired by Suzanne’s cookbook I decided to make Sütlac,  a Turkish rice pudding that is sometimes flavoured with rosewater and mastic, and wanting to include an orange flavour in the rice pudding, decided to add some pieces of my home-dried orange peel.  What I love about a basic rice pudding is… it’s like a blank canvas and you can experiment with a myriad of different culinary flavors.

Chios mastic is an aromatic resin harvested from the Pistacia Lentiscus var. Chia (of the Anacardiaceae family) tree which grows on the Aegean Island of Chios, Greece. Chios mastic has both culinary (pastry, puddings, liqueurs, sweets, ice-cream, marinades, rice,soups and meats ) and commercial uses. If you look at some of the commercial ways in which mastic is used… plasters, cosmetics, varnish, toothpaste, stabilizers, perfumes and chewing gum…  you do wonder how it ever ended up in anything sweet or savoury!  Suzanne uses mastic in some of her sweet and savoury recipes in her cookbook which she grinds together with sugar or salt before incorporating into other ingredients.

Bahrain is known for its herbalist stores ( hawaj ) across the island, which make many natural herbal preparations for all sorts of aliments, some of which contain mastic… also known for its medicinal properties. Ghazi from Al Makhlook stores  in Jid Ali was able to supply me with mastic that came from the Greek Island of Chios… and was also able to tell me that my other supply of mastic which I had bought some time ago was definitely not from (photograph above) Chios! 

Chios mastic has pine-like aromas and a sweet warm perfumed flavour… some have suggested vanilla, cedar and licorice… which seemed to have escaped me! I must say it is hard to describe this unique flavour! The other mastic I had used before was harsh in flavour and had a slight bitter aftertaste, apparently there is another type of tree which produces a similar mastic resin! I guess it’s like tasting a good wine compared to an inferior wine… you taste the difference!

Use a pestle and mortar to grind the mastic and sugar into a fine powder,this helps disperse the mastic evenly into the rice pudding when incorporating.

 Turkish Rice Pudding – Sütlac

                                                          (serves 4)


  • 250ml whipping cream
  • 375ml whole milk
  • 4 dried pieces of home dried orange peel or 1 small stick of cinnamon
  • 100g sugar
  • 300ml water
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 150g short grained rice,
  • 2 teaspoons of cornstarch + 2 tablespoons of milk, mix together
  • 1/4 teaspoon mastic + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, ground together (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons rosewater
  • dried rose buds as a garnish, if desired

How to make: Pour the cream and milk into a medium saucepan, add the orange peel or cinnamon, heat together until almost boiling. Remove from heat, whisk in the sugar and leave the orange peel or cinnamon to infuse, cover with a lid.

In a heavy-based saucepan bring the water to a boil, throw in the salt and rice, stir so the rice does not stick together. Lower the heat and gently simmer the rice (cover with lid) until tender and the water has been absorbed, around 17 minutes.

Pour the cream and milk infusion into the cooked rice and place saucepan over medium heat, stir continuously until the rice mixture comes to a gentle boil. Whisk in the cornflour mixture and cook for a further 2 minutes until thickened. Whisk in the ground mastic and stir throughly. Remove from heat, discard the orange peel or cinnamon stick and stir in the rosewater. Spoon the rice into a serving bowl or small individual serving dishes and chill in the refrigerator before serving. Best served cold but can be eaten warm, if desired!

Note: The rice pudding will thicken further when cold, you can stir in a little cold milk if you find the consistency is not to your liking! This recipe can easily be doubled.

What flavourings and additions do you like in your rice pudding?

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