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.
- 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.
- 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?