Monday, January 28, 2013

Not So Vanilla Vodka

When I tell people that I have a food blog, I generally get asked if I prefer baking or cooking.  And while a fair number of the recipes I post generally lean towards the savory, I do enjoy making the sweet. About five years ago, a very good friend gave me an amazing birthday present, a gift that has continued to give. He made me home-made vanilla extract.

It was so simple and so perfect that I’ve used it ever since. 

For those of you who bake, you know how expensive good vanilla extract can be. A small bottle, one fluid ounce of the pure stuff (not the imitation), can cost around seven to nine dollar at the grocery store. If you bake more than three different items, you’ve gone through you little bottle of extract and have to buy some more. 

Initially when I received the home-made extract, I was a little wary. I mean, it was literally a vanilla bean inside a bottle of vodka. How was this going to compare to the stuff I buy at the store?  But because my friend took the time to make this for me, I decided to use it when I was baking some cookies. I figured I’d make a batch, if they tasted like vodka, I’d just toss them out and remake it.

Obviously since I’m writing you to tell you about this, they batch didn't taste like vodka. And since I’ve been making my own version of this since my initial gifted bottle ran out five years ago, it’s worked rather well.

The key is getting a decent bottle of Vodka, you don’t need anything crazy high end like Gray Goose, but you don’t want to get a bottle of Popov. My initial gift came in a Svedka bottle and I've just defaulted to that ever since. A wine sized bottle (750mL) will cost you around $13 to $15 dollars depending on sales. You’ll also need to get a good vanilla bean. Good vanilla beans can be a little more expensive, probably around $9-$11 a bean. A few months ago I was in Costco and found a pack of 8 Malagasy vanilla beans for the price of one; I bought the pack immediately.   

So if you do the math, even if you end up spending a little over $30 for the supplies you need to make your home-made vanilla, you’re still leaps and bounds ahead of the amount you would spend on an equivalent amount of vanilla extract you purchased at the store.

The one catch on this, you have to wait three weeks before you can actually use it. So you need to have a little forethought.

1 vanilla bean
1 bottle of good vodka, 750 mL

Take the vanilla bean and with a sharp knife, open the bean length wise. Do not cut the bean in half, you want to open it up to expose the seeds inside.

Drop the opened bean into your bottle of vodka and let it steep in a dark cabinet for three weeks.  Your vodka will become light brown and smell heavily of vanilla. Do not worry that it isn’t the deep dark brown of extract; it will work just as good.

If you don’t want to pull down a bottle of vodka every time you bake, you can put it into a new bottle airtight bottle like this. Unless I’m giving the vanilla as part of a gift, I don’t really care, so my extract is still chilling in the vodka bottle.  It makes me feel a little bad-ass.

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