Happy Vanilla season! Winter is vanilla time, and I look forward to posting a few new reviews and notes over the coming cold months.
It seems homemade vanilla extract has a new fan. Regular reader G. writes:
In the newest issue of [Cook's Illustrated] magazine (Sept./Oct, 2009), at page 31, the following short article was featured.
From Cook’s Illustrated, A Better Brand of Vanilla Extract: Your Own, September 1, 2009.
Could our homemade vanilla extract beat out the store-bought brands? Most of vanilla’s flavor compounds are soluble in either water or alcohol, so the most shelf-stable form of vanilla is vanilla extract, produced by soaking vanilla beans in a solution of 65 percent water and at least 35 percent alcohol. We wondered if we could make our own vanilla extract by soaking a split vanilla bean in heated vodka (which would contribute very little of its own flavor). After testing several ratios of vanilla beans to vodka, we arrived at 1 bean per ¾ cup of vodka as the proportion most closely resembling the potency of our recommended store-bought brand, McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract. We then tested our homemade extract against this supermarket product in sugar cookies, crème brûlée, and vanilla buttercream frosting. In each case, our extract outperformed the commercial version, boasting cleaner, more intense vanilla flavor.
Cooks illustrated offers their own variation of a hot-soak recipe:
To make vanilla extract, split a fresh bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the seeds and split pod in a 1-cup sealable container. Add ¾ cup hot vodka (we used Smirnoff—a premium brand is not necessary) and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Seal the container and store at room temperature for one week, shaking gently every day. Strain the extract, if desired, and store in a cool, dark place. The extract should keep indefinitely.
Hot extraction vs cold extraction is an intense debate in the vanilla extract world. Some feel hot extraction gets flavor components that stay in the beans without the heat to dislodge them. Others feel that natural, ‘cold-pressed’ vanilla extract is the most pure because even mild heat destroys some of the delicate aromatics in the beans.