Monday, January 19, 2015



As I mentioned last week, I'm brewing my own vanilla extracts. I started this project late last September, and it's still a work in progress, but I will show you how I started it and let you know how I think it's going so far.

I grew up using Mexican vanillas. They are wonderfully strong and required that you use only a fraction of what the recipe called for. Finding anything authentically Mexican is not an easy task in my current location in Interior Alaska. I had a big bottle that I got from my sister-in-law. She had friends who vacationed in Mexico, bought it back and hated it. It lasted for years and only seemed to get better with age. And by the time that was gone, I had visited a wonderful ethnic market in Chicago and bought another large bottle. But finally, it was all gone too.

I tried the Mexican vanillas that I found in my local stores, but sadly they all tasted just like American made vanillas, so I decided that I would try making my own.

The first step was to find some vanilla beans that didn't cost $12 each, so here I come!

Vanilla bean selection from Amazon.Com
I realize that these are all Madagascar beans and that my final product will lack the depth of flavor which would be realized by mixed different types of beans, but this is a first time thing, so I'm flavor shopping! So for less than $20, I got four different packs of beans, each had 10 beans in it, I'm okay with that.
Next step was to find a recipe. The beans came with a recipe card, but you know, I'm never one to settle for a single option, so I hit the internet and asked.
I would not be exaggerating to say there's a million recipes out there, according to this there are over 24 MILLION of them! I read several and then struck out on my own. What I learned was that vanilla extract could be brewed using any number of alcohol bases, and that if you wanted it to taste like store bought vanilla you needed to add some sugar. And this inspired me to try different liquors and different sweeteners.
I chose Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, Jim Beam Bourbon, Suaza Tequila Gold, and Wolfshmidt Vodka. And because my liquors went kind of dark to light in color, I decided to follow suit with the sugars. I used molasses (in the rum), brown sugar (in the bourbon), an organic turbinado sugar (in the tequila) and just plain white sugar (in the vodka).
When you're reading through those millions of recipes and blogs about brewing vanilla extract, you will find several ways to handle the beans and what kind of container the extract is to be brewed in. Now I am not a vanilla purist by any stretch of the imagination, so some recycled tea bottles and some scissors to snip the beans into pieces worked for me! And yes, I scoured those tea bottles, soaked them in bleach, rinsed and rewashed, sterilized and called it good!!
And here's what it ended up looking like.

And each bottle got about 8 1/2 ounces of alcohol, 1 tablespoon of sweetener, and one package of chopped into pieces vanilla beans. And I labelled each bottle to alcohol used, type and grade of bean, and sweetener added.

In just three days it was already making good color. But it still smelled just like what ever booze was used! At this point, I am still shaking each bottle once a day.

By the end of October, you could smell the vanilla coming through. By now, I'm only shaking the bottles about once a week.
By the end of November, you could tell it was going to be vanilla, the booze smell was still pretty strong, but the vanilla smell was awesome. And I start shaking it up maybe, once or twice a month.
And by December I was busy with holiday baking and totally spaced out my monthly vanilla brew update. Right up until I ran out of my regular vanilla extract while making cookies, and so I used some of the spiced rum vanilla. It worked wonderfully in some dark chocolate cookies, but you could tell it needed to be aged some more!
So now, in the middle of January, I'm going to do a real update. Here's each bottle and what I thought of the smell and the taste. I got them all laid out...

...and then decided I should shake them up, get the flavor going before I tasted them.

And now I have to wait for them to settle a little bit.
The vodka brew tastes just like store bought vanilla right now. There was only a faint whiff of vodka smell.
Here's the tequila brew. It smells like vanilla and tequila and flowers. It even leaves a floral aftertaste on your palette when you taste it. Definitely needs more aging.

The bourbon brew has a vanilla smell but still tastes like bourbon.
And the spiced rum tastes like you just want to pour it over some ice cubes and sit down and relax!! This one is by far my favorite so far, for mixing a cocktail it would be perfect right now. For using as vanilla, it's going to need some more time.
So there it is, my vanilla brewing update. I'm going to pack it all back into it's dark little corner and forget about it until mid-fall and see what happens. In the meantime, I'll pick up a bottle of store bought extract to use.
Until next week all, cook something wonderful and enjoy!




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