Baking is my passion but it’s also a special treat when I use real vanilla beans. Now I know that quality vanilla extract can be quite expensive, much less buying the real beans, but I’d love to show you how a small investment can reap huge vanilla flavor rewards and last a long time.
First off, get yourself some nice beans. I know you’ve seen them at the grocery store and even at Walmart, but beware. What you’re buying is the fruit of an orchid plant. A seed pod to be exact, so please don’t buy anything dry and shriveled. I've seen a lot of beans that rattle around in the jars. Hmm. Makes me wonder how long they've been in there. What you’re looking for is fresh and plump and moist~ like fruit should be.
As for me, I buy my beans online. On eBay to be exact. I buy them by the dozen from a reliable seller that ships them to my door fresh, plump and vacuum sealed. I cut open the package and take a big heavenly sniff of vanilla goodness. Ahhh. After that, I plunk all of them into my vodka bottle. Yep, vodka. Keep it in a dark place and shake it every now and then and in 6 months you’ll have real vanilla extract.
Now when you have a recipe that calls for a vanilla bean, it usually says a vanilla bean “split and scraped”. Fish a bean out of your vodka and slice it lengthwise. Then, using the tip of the knife you just had in your hand, scrape the teeny tiny black seeds from the pod and put them where ever your recipe specifies.
Most people leave it at that. But, if I’ve shelled out good money for good quality beans and good quality vodka, I want to use every iota of flavor that I’ve paid for. I place the spent pods in a cute jar of plain white sugar and shake it up. And there you have vanilla sugar (great for coffee and tea) in a week or two.
When my vanilla extract runs low, I top it off with vodka and plunk in a few more beans. Keep up this cycle and if you’re patient, you have great quality extract and beans ready for your best recipes forever.