Friday, September 26, 2008
A Vanilla Adventure
I bake a lot. I think I have a few friends solely because they love it when I bring them baked goods--and I'm not stingy when I bake something delicious. I have even been proposed to based on a slice of cheesecake*. Baking is definitely one of my hobbies, even if I don't keep up my baking blog much**.
If you bake, you'll know that you usually use a little vanilla. Vanilla extract adds an indefinable quality and flavor to desserts that's just wonderful. You may not necessarily notice when it's there, but you will notice something missing when it's not. Vanilla seems simple ("plain vanilla," anyone?), but it's actually one of the most complex flavors out there.
Since I bake a lot, I always have to keep a bit of vanilla extract on hand. And I buy the good stuff--some extract claims to be pure, but it actually has corn syrup and other things added to it. A good extract should be mainly alcohol and vanilla. Buying the crappy stuff--if it's labeled "pure"--is pricey. Buying the organic/free trade extract is even more expensive.
After recently dropping six bucks for a teeny-tiny bottle at the co-op, I decided to look up how to make your own vanilla extract. I had burning questions: is it difficult? is it cheaper? how is it made, anyway? I then stumbled upon VanillaReview.com. This site tells you how to make extract, and also gives general information about beans, varieties, good places to find beans, and other vanilla-related information.
So it turns out making vanilla is pretty easy. Beans+vodka+time=more extract than you can use in a lifetime. Buying beans was my next challenge, until in my internet travels I found the Organic Vanilla Bean Company, which was recommended by The Kitchn.
Today I bought 1/4 lb. of Tahitian vanilla beans for about eight dollars, plus shipping. From what I've read, a mix of Tahitian and Bourban beans are better for extract, but Tahitian are favored by pastry chefs. I'm no pastry chef, but I do bake pastries. And the Tahitians were a bit cheaper, so in a few days, I'm going to embark on making my very own extract.
*Don't worry, Lance...I turned him down.
**Which, in fact, I should just morph over here. No point in keeping all my interests separate anymore. Especially since I can't seem to keep any of them up to date. I do like have a baking blog, though *sigh*.