Pantry Basics: Vanilla Extract

IMG_7157If you’re a home baker, you need to add this little secret ingredient to your pantry. It makes all of your baked goods taste THAT much better, whether it’s a cake or a cookie. Whipped cream? Out of this world. If you’re making any sort of pastry cream, creme brulee or panna cotta, take one of the vanilla pods out of the jar, split it open and scrape the seeds to knock these dessert standards out of the park. Let dry for a few days and then stick the vanilla pod in your sugar pot to infuse the sugar with its incomparable, sweet aroma .

I was once given a small medicine bottle of this liquid gold by the proprietor of a B & B we stayed at in Massachusetts. She told me it was the easiest thing and gave me the recipe verbally. I tweaked the recipe with a little research years later to achieve quality results. Buy a bunch of pods wholesale (see SOURCES below), gather some resealable bottles and you’ve got a bunch of perfect and thoughtful gifts that you can pair with a recipe that uses it.

You’ll need a four-month lead time before you can start using it. Start off maturing two bottles of extract at the beginning. Once you’re done with the first and onto the second, you can repeat the process with the used bottle. This way, you have one bottle that is maturing and one that is always ready for use.

2 recycled glass bottles, resealable
small stainless-steel funnel
round stickers

Clean and dry bottles. In a small bottle (like the bottle on the left), place the funnel in the spout of the bottle and add:
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Pour to fill the bottle 2/3 full:
best quality vodka

Close bottle and shake to dissolve most of the sugar. Reopen the bottle and add:
4-6 Madagascar or Tahitian vanilla pods

Take a round sticker and write the date you close the bottle. It will be ready in about 4-6 months. Keep in a cool, dark place. Your pantry is the ideal place as it is not susceptible to changes in temperature, like those in your kitchen cupboards. Periodically, gently turn the bottle upside down to allow the extract to mix. Do not shake.

NB: Each bottle lasts in perpetuity for up to 5 years, though the intensity you get from the first three maturation processes is ideal. Pictured L-R: Small bottle, first maturation at 3 months; Large bottle after 2 maturations; Large bottle, 3rd maturation at 4 months.