Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract & Mint Extract, too!!

2 different types of vanilla bean~lg bottle are Madagascars, sm bottle are Tahitians 

I always like to start out my little "forays" with a "why I got into THIS particular funk" story, & I suppose that this time will be no different.  So, here goes.
Recall that wonderful Pear Vanilla Jam recipe I was going to make?  The one that inspired me to go look up vanilla beans on eBay?  The one that I didn't actually end up making with the load of pears I currently had? 
Well, I DID end up ordering 10 Tahitian vanilla beans & 40 Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans from eBay.  The Tahitian beans came from VanillaProducts, & although they weren't that plump or oily, they were only extract grade, & only cost $5.99  (includes shipping cost!!!)  The Madagascar beans came from Serris, France, from a seller named vanilladiscount.  They were BEAUTIFUL!!!  Plump, oily, lots of caviar.
(The caviar is the little tiny black seeds that can be scraped out of the interior of the bean.)
And they only cost $9.99, w/ free shipping!!  VERY inexpensive!  (I seem to just walk into these deals, I don't know.  I call it blessings)

you can see how pretty these madagascar beans are~click the pic to enlarge & then again for even more detail

So, ok, I have ordered the beans, & I have every intention of making that Pear Vanilla Bean jam.  (Which I am still going to make, by the way, my second load of pears just aren't quite ripe yet.)
But as with all things that I OCD on, I seem to "go long".  Get a little more than really necessary.  And you guessed it, I really did get WAAAYY too many vanilla beans for pear jam.  I mean, even if I used every last pear in the four boxes of pears that I have (which, by the way, came free from a very generous ward member's father!), I would only use up about 10 vanilla beans.  And that's going stark raving WILD with the vanilla.
So yah...maybe I OCD'ed.
Anyway, enough of that.  You already all know my sins of indulgence if you read this blog. 
So I seem to have this plethora of vanilla beans, & they smell SOOOO heavenly, they are just begging me to do SOMEthing with them.  And naturally that led to several long research sessions on different vanilla bean recipes.  And the most AWESOME of all of them was how to make your own vanilla extract.  OOHH how lovely that looked.  And since I do cook & bake quite a bit, the thought of having limitless supplies of  pure vanilla extract just seemed so COOL!

And I also saw that a few people were making mint extract as well, which sounded really good, too, since I like to make my own blend of hot chocolate.  That & I seem to have a never-ending root of mint that refuses to die, no matter how many times, how vigorously or how dedicated we are about pulling the stuff up every year.  And I already have 2 #10 cans full of dried mint.  Needless to say, I had a bit of mint available.

mint in a pint jar with vodka, 1st day

There was only one serious issue I had with this.  For most people it probably wouldn't mean much, but this recipe requires vodka, & lots of it.  Not a problem, you might say ~ so go get some vodka.  But see, I don't all.  I mean, I didn't even know where the liquor store was, or how much it would cost or even how to know what sort of proof or alcohol content it was or ANYthing.  I had literally NEVER bought any alcohol in my entire life!  And I really don't agree with alcohol.  I don't support it, I think the stuff is truly harmful, because it's used so poorly.  BUT ~ ok here's the rationalization story ~ I thought, you know, how hard can it be?  I'm an adult.  I can do this.  It's not like I am going to drink the stuff.  (just the scent is enough to give you a whiz, let me tell you, it's like getting a whiff of rubbing alcohol... the stuff is strong!!)
So I did it.  I bought 2 bottles (1.75L each) of Monarch Vodka (40% alcohol, 80 proof, double charcoal filtered) at $13.50 per bottle.  I have no idea what all of that means, but I suspect it's probably a very cheap vodka.  The whole point of using vodka, however, is that it apparently has no flavor to it, so the beauty of the vanilla beans can really shine.  I have read about folks using bourbon or rum, but since I don't drink, I don't know what those flavors are, & I wouldn't begin to know whether the flavors would be correct.  I DO know I like pure vanilla flavor though, so that's what I stuck with.  Vodka.  Cheap vodka.

mint 2nd day ~ already darkening into a deep green

All right already, get to the recipe, right?  I know, I know, but I like to indulge in background color, it's the only way to let you know (sort of, I guess) that my ducks are truly in a row.  Credibility, provenance...

I'm giving you quantities in pints & quarts, since I really had no clue as to what sort of volume vodka came in, nor how much that volume equated to quarts & pints, & I didn't want any leftovers.
This is what I came up with:
Two 1.75L bottles of vodka = 4 full quarts or 8 full pints

Home made Mint Extract
~1 pint jar with a ring & dome
~about 1 to 1 1/2 really big handfuls of mint (maybe 100 to 150 leaves?)
the mint should only fill half to 3/4 of the jar.  There needs to be room for the vodka to swish & swirl
~about 2 cups of vodka

Make sure the leaves you pick are nice large, mature leaves, with deep veining, & therefore lots of flavor & oil. 
Pick them off of the stems, carefully wash them & dry each leaf.  You don't want a lot of extra water in there.
Pick up a pinch of leaves (about 5 or 8 leaves) & bend & twist them & sort of crunch them up, without tearing them, then drop them into the pint jar.
 That bruising action helps to release the oils, & allows the vodka to soak into the leaves better.
Once you have finished crunching & bruising the leaves, pour vodka in to the pint jar, leaving about 1/4" headspace.
Dome & ring the jar, and give it a healthy shake, to get the vodka distributed nicely.
Set the jar on the countertop, & put a heavy dark towel over it, so that there is no light getting to it.  Some folks say to put it into a cupboard & shake it daily, but I would forget about it if I did that, so I put it on the counter, & shake it whenever I go past it, & then put it back under the towel.  Do whatever works for you.
In pic one, you can see that at the end of the day, the leaves are already starting to give off their goodness.
And in the second pic, after a little more than 24 hours, the extract is already ripening into a nice dark green.  I personally think the constant shaking helps that along quite a bit.  I opened the jar today, & sniffed it, and I can already smell the mint coming through the alcohol.

pint jar of madagascar beans after only 2 days

Homemade Vanilla Extract
~3 quart jars & 1 pint jar (assuming you used the other pint's worth of vodka for the mint extract)
~rings & domes
~32 - 41 vanilla beans
~All the rest of the vodka ( remember that one bottle of 1.75L vodka = 2 quarts)
for each quart jar, I used 11 vanilla beans
I also used 8 beans in the pint jar, just to see if that would make it go faster, & the answer to that is an emphatic YES!  (see pic above, much darker than my quarts) I first used 8 beans per quart jar, but
 have since added 3 more beans  per jar than shown in the pics to each quart of vodka, because I want this stuff ready to go by Christmas.

Now here's the easy part ~ get a sharp NON-SERRATED knife ( no sense in having the caviar stuck all in the knife, you want ALL the goodness in your extract) & a smooth cutting surface.  I personally did not want to use my regular cutting board, because the vanilla is so strong that the flavors would stay in the plastic for a long time.  For the same reason, I did not want to use my wooden bread board, so I ended up using a china plate.  That way, the very most amount of vanilla oils & caviar would make it into my extract.  My mother always did say "Waste not, want not."  ;-D
Lay the vanilla bean down on the plate, & give it a little tug.  It should be pliable enough that that action straightens it out.  Then slice the bean open roughly, leaving a little bit connected at the top, but sliced completely through at the bottom.  personally, I did not cut all the way through on the first cut, I instead used my fingers (touching only the very tips) to separate the bean; I think that the torn cells help the bean to accept more vodka, since they are not pressed closed from the sharp cut.  Which is why I say cut it roughly, so that the knife does not penetrate through both sides very often.  This may take a bit of skill, but again, I believe it helps make extract faster.
Once you have separated the sides, take your knife & use it to gently open up or spread apart the "lips" of the bean halves, trying to not disturb the caviar as much as possible.  This will allow as much vodka as possible to get into those cells & therefore "extract" the vanilla that much faster.  (Also why shaking the bottle every time you walk past it helps speed up the process as well.)  Any caviar that you get on the knife should be scraped back onto the bean. 
Drop the prepared bean into the jar, till you have as many in there as you want, (filling all of the jars first, so that you aren't losing any of that bean goodness to handwashing each time), pour the vodka in, leaving a 1/2" to 1/4" headspace, cap & ring. 
Now shake those babies.
Put them on your counter top, with a dark heavy towel over the top.  Light & heat are the enemy of good extraction, so you want to protect them against it. 
Every time you walk past them, give them a good shake.
After 2 days, open up the pint jars & smell ~ amazing, it's already starting to smell like the real deal!!

How much did this cost?  Let's tally it up.
Vodka ~ 2 bottles of 1.75L Monarch, @ $13.50 ea.= $28.80
Vanilla beans ~ 10 tahitian extract grade @ $5.99
+ 40 madagascar gourmet AAA @ $9.99= $15.98
mint (I'll PAY someone to take it!)=$0
jars, domes & rings ~ already had = $0
grand total = $44.78
Plus, I found some really adorable bottles to re-bottle this into from Sunburst Bottle Co., for about 40c a bottle.  ( I will post follow-up pics once I do that).  I plan on giving away 32 one ounce bottles as gifts. (If they like it. I may give them more in larger bottles, cross that bridge when I come to it.)
So add in the price of the decorator bottles, 32 @ .40c ea= $12.80
GRAND grand total = $58.35  for 32 gifts, that's only $1.82 per gift! 
And, it's a cool, homemade gift.  (I suppose it's sort of cheesy to put the dollar amount on here, since a number of the folks I would be gifting this to will read it, but, for those of you who don't know, my whole family appreciates quality that costs less.  Yes, we are sorta cheapskates.  I prefer to think of it as "thrifty, practical, & being a wise steward over that which I have."  ;-D)
PLUS. that still leaves me PLENTY of vanilla left, to use for myself, plus to keep a steady amount going in case I decide to make it a perpetual gift.

madagascar beans after a few hours

tahitian beans after a few hours
These pics show the extract on a window sill, with the sun shining in on them ~ that is for picture purposes ONLY!! ~ Remember to put them under a towel or in a dark cupboard.  And when you buy bottles to re-bottle the extract into, remember that the dark amber or cobalt ones are going to protect the flavor intensity far better than a clear one. 
Also, although you don't want high heat or light, the refridgerator is NOT a good place for you to put the extract.  This will retard the extraction, as it will be TOO cold.  Room temperature or basement storage room is good.

tahitian beans after a few days

One  ( or two...) last thoughts ~ how long will this stuff last?  Should I, if ever, remove the beans?  What if I use up my vanilla & want more, should I get all new beans?  Should I strain the extract before using it or gifting it?  I notice that commercial varieties have water & sugar added.  Should I do that too?  What if I do decide to remove the beans, what should I do with them?

~Do not worry about this ever going bad, it is preserved with the alcohol, & will never get spoiled.

~On removing the beans ~ those beans continue to add flavor & depth to the extract. I'd leave them in.
Now, a great trick to perpetual vanilla extract is this: each time you refill your little "kitchen bottle", top off the main "mother jar" with more vodka, & give it a healthy shake up.  By the time you need to refill your kitchen bottle again, the beans in the mother jar will have extracted more.  Also, every time you use up a vanilla bean in your kitchen, just put the used pod into the mother jar. 

~These beans can really go quite a while.  Even if you bought no more beans at all, the original beans can be used for extraction at least three more times.  So topping off your mother jar is not going to be a dilution issue.

~Here is where there are some diverse ideas ~ some folks out there don't like the idea of a bean slowly disintetraging in their extract, & for some recipes (such as icing) you may not want the flecks.  If this is the case, you can always measure the amount of extract needed through a small coffee filter, then add it to your recipe.  Again, however, want not waste not.  Many chefs & consumers of expensive foods pay quite a bit to have those little flecks in the food, as it proves that real vanilla or vanilla bean was used in the recipe.  Those flecks add flavor punch, & they lend a "gourmet" touch.  For me, I'm not getting rid of them.

~As to adding water & sugar ~ this is just the way that commercial producers of vanilla extract can insert cheaper fillers into the product, creating greater volume & less expensive product for the consumer, & yet still stick it to them with the price.  If you want to dilute your vanilla that way, go for it.  I don't know the quantities & I don't reccomend it.  If you are concerned about the vanilla being too strong or having too much of an alcoholic taste, ( if adding to something like a smoothie, where there would be no cooking involved), just measure out the amount you need into a porcelain or glass cup, & add a touch of sugar to it, & zap it in the microwave for a few seconds before adding it to your recipe.  That should cook off any alcohol.

~And finally, if you do decide to remove the beans, let them dry out & stick them upright in a pint jar, pour sugar over the top, & use that sugar to flavor your smoothies. ;-D

all 5 jars after a few hours

all five jars after a few days


Larson said...

Umm, there are no words!
Where are your witty detailed instructions?

redhead83402 said...

Sorry, only had time to get the pics in, then I had to make dinner. It was rice & creamy curried elk, with fresh ginger & bamboo shoots ~ pretty dang tasty, actually ~ ;-D ~ words are now there ;-D

Mike said...

I bought vanilla beans from the same person on Ebay and so far they have been the best beans for the least money.

The person hasn't had any for sale for a while now, so I'm looking for another source for a reasonable price. So far I've tried two others, and neither are near as good for the price. They were called "extract" quality, dried out, little smell.
One was Arizona Vanilla, ok smell, dried out. The other was Vanilla Products USA. Hardly smells of vanilla at all. The ones from France, I could smell when I opened the mail box. Juicy, plump, gave my extract lots of flavor very fast. The others, not so much.
I wound up mixing different beans from different suppliers in the extract. I'm going to try making some from just the France ones, and just the Vanilla Products USA, and find out in four months what their like.

I guess I'll keep looking for decent beans, and waiting for the person from France to start selling them again.

redhead83402 said...

Mike, when you find another decent supplier, I would love to know about them. I also saw that the dude from France is no longer offering beans for sale ~ it made me sad ~ I even emailed them & asked what was up, but I think they don't speak English or something. I am now considering emailing them again , using one of those online translators, but I am just a little afraid of what the actual meaning may really be ~;-D I guess the level of desperation will determine the cause of action. ;-D