URGENT: Stop Using Commercial Vanilla Extract!
June 18, 2016 at 12:33 pm By Chef Eric
I would love to write one of those click-bait articles, about how commercial vanilla extract causes nearsightedness in children, and the government is in cahoots with optometrists to sell more eye glasses. And while that could be true, it probably isn’t. Instead, my concern is that our baking could be so much better by making our own amped up vanilla extracts.
Homemade vanilla extract really is as simple as putting vanilla pods in a jar with vodka and waiting. At room temperature the process can take up to 3 months, but if we raise the temperature up to 135F we can speed up the process and be done in about 2 hours. The flavour in vanilla beans dissolves well in alcohol. When we bake with it, the alcohol cooks off leaving the delicious taste of vanilla behind. But why stop there? We can easily add any number of flavourful additions and create a better vanilla extract.
What should we add? Why not start simple with some lemon zest. You can use this in muffins, scones, and pancakes. On the other end of the spectrum, you could add cocoa nibs and coffee beans that would work great in a batch of brownies.
And there is no reason to keep using vodka, which is the plainest, most boring of the alcohols. Try using spiced rum, with a cinnamon stick, then use this in molasses cookies or carrot cake.
My favorite is to use whiskey (or bourbon) with either cocoa nibs, orange zest, or both. Then fold this into whipped cream or add it to a classic buttercream frosting.
Like I said earlier, the method for making homemade vanilla couldn’t possibly be easier: put stuff in alcohol and wait. At room temperature this will take about three months, but we can speed this up using the power of science. By warming the alcohol mixture to 135F we can get a very flavourful extraction in under three hours. Some people prefer even lower, closer to 110F for a little longer, I say to each their own.
The above photos are a before and after. Notice the colour change for the two jars of vodka.
I should also mention that each of these on their own can be consumed as a delicious beverage, or added into your favourite cocktail.