Vanilla extract goes into most all baked goods. But what does it do? Vanilla extract is really a non essential ingredient as it does not change the composition of baked goods. It does, however, enhance the flavor sort of like adding salt to a dish.
Most people use imitation vanilla extract because it is far cheaper than the real stuff. But if you are really in to baking and are looking to step up your game a bit I would suggest trying to make some of your own! It is super easy to do and although the vanilla beans are costly, you only need 4 beans to make a bottle of extract! Most recipes only call for a teaspoon or so of vanilla extract so 1 jar will last you a while.
Cut the 4 beans in half the long way to expose the tiny seeds and release more of the flavor. Put the bean halves in a jar with a lid, pour in vodka or brandy to fill the jar and completely submerge the vanilla beans. Now the hard part, put the jar in a cool, dark place and wait EIGHT weeks for the extract to be ready! It takes a while for the vanilla bean flavor to really strengthen so be patient and give it the full 8 weeks. If you can remember, it helps to give the bottle a shake every week or 2.
I tried it out with both vodka and brandy. I did not label them because they looked so different at the beginning, but now I can barely tell them apart. As you can see above, the brandy extract is a bit darker, however I cannot tell the difference in terms of taste once they are added to a recipe. Either will work!
When purchasing your vanilla beans, you may find that they are even more expensive than you had thought. A few factors have contributed to vanilla bean prices fluctuating higher over the past 2 years or so. The first is that many of the big food companies have pledged to decrease or eliminate the use of artificial flavors in their food products. This has driven the demand for real vanilla extract higher and therefore the price. Additionally, the 2015 Madagascar vanilla bean crop was poor, about 1/2 of what it was in 2014, which had a big impact on the supply of vanilla beans and vanilla extract in 2016. The good news is that the 2017 supply is predicted to be more fruitful so we may be looking at some price cuts in the coming months! (You learn weird things like this when you work in the food industry 🙂 )
- 4 Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans
- 12oz Vodka or Brandy
- Slice vanilla beans in half the long way
- Put halved beans in a bottle with a lid
- Fill bottle with vodka or brandy so all beans are submerged
- Leave in a dark, cool place for at least 8 weeks
- Shake bottle every 2 weeks
- Use in place of imitation vanilla extract in recipes
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