I suppose it couldn’t have been helped. Being so immersed in vanilla caused everything within my short distance to smell like the prized bean…even Bean is smelling a little sweeter and less cat-like. I’m finding seeds everywhere and I know vanilla sugar and salt have found their ways into my camera case and laptop.
Things good be worse…I could be obsessed with durian.
Anyway, this month’s vanilla post centres on how to make your own vanilla flavourings and condiments. I’m not making all of these right now--I usually have some home-made vanilla sugar and extract on hand but I found some recipes for other vanillafications. The salt is my own experiment--I made some a little more than a month ago and have started using it--I'm quite happy with it.
There are couple of points to keep in mind when making your own flavourings. The beans should be pliable—if you can’t bend the pods easily, they probably won't work as well or as quickly as fresher beans. The other point is to only use glass bottles or containers made from non-reactive materials: plastic is far too porous and will allow other scents and flavours to seep into the contents and change the flavour. You can easily double or trebel the quanitities listed--it all depends upon how much you use and how much room there is in your pantry.
To be on the safe side, I purchased one bottle each of Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian extracts to compare flavours and aromas, so I don’t have any home-made extracts on hand. Making your own extract is quite easy. I prefer using vodka because its neutral flavour, but you can use rum, brandy, cognac or any other spirit you wish.
2 25cm vanilla beans
Split the beans so the seeds are exposed, but the tips of the pods are in tact (the best visual I can think of is that of a canoe). Place the beans in a dark-coloured glass bottle that has a tight-fitting lid. Pour in the vodka, close the bottle and store in a cool place for about a month. Every once in a while, give the bottle a swirl to mix its contents. As you use the extract, replace the liquid with more vodka. The beans will keep imparting their flavour for months, so if the extract starts tasting “weaker” simply replace the beans.
Vanilla honey is an alternative to plain sugar—just remember that honey is about six times sweeter than regular sugar, so you should use less honey in your recipes. Mildly-flavoured honey such as clover is preferable to a heavier-flavoured type such as buckwheat.
1 25cm vanilla bean.
Remove the vanilla seeds by splitting the bean lengthwise. Stir the seeds into the sticky goo. Cut the pod into two pieces and then add to the honey. Close up the jar and let sit for at least one week.
You need a very lightly-flavoured oil for this to work well. Forego the EVOO and reach for grapeseed or safflower oil.
500mL bottle of safflower oil
1 25 cm vanilla bean
Simply split the bean and put into the bottle. The oil will be ready to use in a week. Leave the bean in the bottle as it will continue imparting its flavours for about a year.
Vanilla salt is great in savoury dishes made with seafood, pork or chicken; I like using it when I bake cakes. You can, of course, always use it as a finishing salt.
200g unadulterated sea salt
1 25cm vanilla bean
Tip in the salt into a very dry, non-reactive, airtight container. You can either add a split bean or cut the bean into two, finely grind one piece and mix it into the salt and then put in the other half, or just put the bean in as-is. Seal the bottle and place in a cupboard for a month before using, stirring up the contents every so often. Replace with more sea salt as necessary.
All of a sudden I’m craving a vanilla soda…
400g granulated sugar
1 25cm vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Put everything into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and light the hob to medium to medium-high. Stir until sugar dissolves. Let mixture come to a boil for about two minutes, then reduce the heat and let simmer until the syrup’s volume has reduced to about one cup. Turn off heat and then let the syrup—including bean—cool before pouring into a container. You can use it immediately, store unused portion in refrigerator.
I love vanilla sugar stirred into my afternoon tea. Adding it to vanilla cakes or other sweets, will add an extra vanilla dimension to your treats. I’ve seen some complicated procedures including lightly toasting the beans and grinding up the pods, but I believe simpler is better.
200g granulated sugar
1 25cm vanilla bean
Tip in the sugar into a non-reactive, airtight container and then simply put in the bean. You can split it to expose the seeds if you wish, but I never do. Close up the bottle and then give it a good shake. Place the bottle in a cupboard for a month, stirring up the contents every so often. Replace with plain sugar as necessary. If you use whole beans in baking or in custards, simply rinse off the cooked bean, let dry and put into the sugar jar.
Vanilla vinegars can be used in vinaigrettes or as finish to steamed veg. Your base vinegar should be mild, so consider white wine, cider or fruit vinegar.
500mL white wine vinegar
1 25 cm vanilla bean
Split the vanilla bean to expose the seeds and place into a bottle. Pour in the vinegar, close it up, give it a shake and let sit for a week. Leave the bean in the bottle as it will continue flavouring the vinegar for a year.
above: (top) vanilla sugar; (bottom) vanilla salt