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The make-your-own vanilla extract experiment


Fat Guy
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I recently opened my jar and the smell did improve a lot. I was affraid that I would not like my grade B tahitian beans but things are getting much better now... maybe I am simply in a better mood too! :biggrin:

I also started to use my beans in other applications with good success. I took a few pictures for those of you who are interested. Nothing really fancy yet but I am working on it.

One of the first thing I have done with my extra beans was a series of fresh fruit custard pies (no pictures taken) which were quite good but not the greatest I have eaten.

Then I decided to cook something that would let me appreciate the flavour of my beans more directly:

A rice pudding:

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And some vanilla and parmesan pasta following an idea from Ferran Adria:

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Both quite good but I think I would prefer the bourbon beans to the tahitian ones with the pasta.

Where my tahitian beans were at their best however was in my poached pear recipe (no pictures). For some reason, these were the best poached pears I have ever done... and were extremely simple (a small amount of brandy + simple sirup + a tiny piece of lemon zest + a few drops of lemon juice + two tahitian beans). I used the remaining poaching syrup to flavour a cold green tea and the result was, again, spectacular.

I can't wait to try my extract!

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I just made the most kickass vanillaq kulfi (the Millagai recipe) with some of these intarweb beans....very, very good. good crunch from the seeds.

My extracts seem to be coming along well both brown (the makers one and the vodka one)

does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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Now in week three of the experiment and the rum/vodka in the jars with the split beans is much darker than the jars with the chopped beans. Next week, at the four week mark, I plan on taking a smell to see if the vanilla aroma is present.

Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you and be silent. Epicetus

Amanda Newton

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Seeing this thread pop up spurred me to get up, get out Steve's gift beans, and start making some extract. (Why is it kitchen projects that will required delayed gratification are so easy to put off?) Anyway, I was going to split and scrape, but after a go at scraping one bean half, I thought, "This is hard. I don't feel like doing hard." So, I more or less split each bean and then chopped them into about 1" lengths. I started two pint jars of extract -- five beans to a jar and each filled with vodka. I shook vigorously, which seemed to produce absolutely no change, so I shook again. No change. They're in the pantry, and I have faith and Steve's word that they are already working their magic.

Edited to add: how shall I store my remaining 10 beans? Currently, they are in a freezer ziploc bag with most of the air squeezed out. Should I freeze them?

Edited by Lori in PA (log)

~ Lori in PA

My blog: http://inmykitcheninmylife.blogspot.com/

My egullet blog: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=89647&hl=

"Cooking is not a chore, it is a joy."

- Julia Child

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I took the plunge yesterday, and and of course am horribly impatient and wishing that I started months ago.

Anyway, I got a bunch of beans from the ebay guys ... 10 grade A madagascar beans for desserts, and 20 grade B madagascar beans for extracts, etc.

I went with the bourbon beans because of a taste-off we did at the ice cream store where I once worked. All of us prefered the madagascar ... but that was in ice cream. Maybe i'd prefer other kinds in other uses. A creme anglaise I made with one of the grade A beans was almost overpowering ... i'm not sure if those beans are just unusually strong, if they have odd flavors, or if I'm just not used to the potency of good quality vanilla. I'm curious to hear the impressions of more experienced pastry people who have tried beans from these guys.

So, I found an almost empty, green, half liter bottle of Jamesons, and emptied it the only way I know how. I split 12 of the extract grade beans lengthwise, choped them into 1 inch bits, and then covered them with some Svedka vodka that someone left at my house after a party.

And being impatient, I shook it for a couple of minutes, and started tasting and smelling it immediately. At first it tasted and smelled like vodka, with a hint of vanilla. After about 5 hours it tasted like really good vanilla flavored vodka. After 12 hours, it actually smelled like a weak vanilla extract, though I could still detect the vodka smell, and it hasn't taken on much color. From what everyone here suggests, I need to find some new distractions and just walk away for the next few months.

Notes from the underbelly

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So, I found an almost empty, green, half liter bottle of Jamesons, and emptied it the only way I know how.

hahahaha :laugh: I love eGullet!

From what everyone here suggests, I need to find some new distractions and just walk away for the next few months.

Step awaaaay from the bottle... Slowly... No sudden moves...

Feast then thy heart, for what the heart has had, the hand of no heir shall ever hold.
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just wanted to strongly agree with andiesenji about infusing in water--not really a good idea--water grows all kinds of undesirable things--even heating it every few days won't make it safe.

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On Wednesday, I started a new quart jar with 15 beans split and vodka. The vodka is already almost as dark at the rum and bourbon that have been sitting for almost a month.

I took the beans that were in water and checked them carefully. There is nothing but a delicious vanilla smell and no off colors or tastes. So, daring soul that I am, I went to the co-op and bought some crystalized xylitol and added about two tablespoons to the water. Then I heated this concoction and threw it into the food processor. I don't have a food mill. Ths weekend I am planning to run it through the blender to see if I can grind everything up some more. I am thinking I will eventually strain it and make paste out of it. I'll keep you informed.

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It has been somewhere between five and six weeks now, and today I checked in again on my extracts. Still judging only by aroma, they've come far. They still have a long way to go, but most of the awful industrial aromas I was getting before are gone -- especially in the rum and whiskey versions (the vodka one still smells a little toxic). So, agitated and replaced, to be checked on again whenever.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have three batches going, all jarred on 3/15. Just agitated them again and finally yielded to temptation to give them the sniff test. The Madagascar Bourbon version (all are in Rum) smells the best--the most vanilla-y, the least raw. The Grade B Madagascar beans are in second (but still smell a bit overwhelmingly of not-too-expensive rum), but then this is the weakest solution, since I used 10 beans to 2 pints of rum, whereas the other samples are 10 beans to 1 pint. The Tahitian beans are a distant third. I didn't do any taste-testing, mostly because commercial vanilla tastes like crap to me at the best of times. All are fairly dark at this point.

My plan is to make side-by-side comparisons of the different batches in a month or so, probably in ice cream or creme brulee. I can't wait!

Feast then thy heart, for what the heart has had, the hand of no heir shall ever hold.
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My Madagascar grade b beans have been brewing for two weeks now (12 beans, 500ml cheap vodka). The extract smells amazing. Compared to the store-bought madagascar extract in my fridge, it's paler in color, but has a bigger, richer, more rounded smell.

Even after one week, it was smelling pretty good. Then it had sharper notes to it ... i could still detect a strong presence of vodka. Now the vodka smell is almost entirely gone.

I can't wait to check it out after a couple of months.

Notes from the underbelly

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I did go ahead and buy a pound of B-madagascar beans about a week later and did about 25 beans to 1 quart jars with vodka. Those jars are much better vanilla smelling than the Tahitian jars.

Jennifer

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  • 2 weeks later...

Vanilla extract is a simple process and one of those that should not be toyed with to much simply because it is so easy and so perfect in what it is. All you need is distilled spirits and vanilla beans. No need to grind them, or split them, or anything else. Now I will admit that I have several different types of spirits going as extracts, but this stems from not only a cooking perspective but also a drinking perspective. Try an Irish Coffee made with vanilla infused Irish Whiskey (Jameson's is my personal favorite) in the morning and you will see what I mean. Time is the only factor you have to deal with. As more time passes with the vanilla in the spirit the more vanilla flavor will be extracted. The beans as well are still useful, please do not discard them. Try a Bourbon bread pudding using the vanilla beans that you stored in bourbon for the last eight weeks and the flavor will blow your mind. The second thing you need to consider is what type of bean you use. Madagascars are the best known, but what about the robust and oily Mexican and the spicier Tahitian. Each bean has its own flavor profile and these flavors need to be considered before we just dunk them into some liquor and wait for a good result. Finally, if you are looking for great vanilla beans, or any other vanilla product for that matter, check out www.arizonavanilla.com. They have great products at excellent prices and their customer service is amazing.

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Wow, I'm so thrilled to have found this thread just now!

I started my own vanilla extract making experiment (if you could call it that) in Feburary when I bought both Madagascan as well as Tahitian beans off some eBay sellers. I found some old threads on vanilla extract making on egullet and read up wherever else I could. I wanted a cheap source of good quality vanilla extract, not the fake stuff I've been using up until the time I bought a humungously expensive bottle of LorAnn's vanilla extract and fell absolutely in love with it.

Then I dumped 4 of each type of bean - split, scraped and cut into 4 inch lengths - into a bottle of vodka, a bottle of bourbon whiskey, and because a friend gave me this, a bottle of rum.

At this point my various liquids are, at just past 3 months, dark brown and still smell pretty harsh, although the vanilla odour is increasing (at least I hope so). I'm not sure how much is my imagination and wishful thinking, really. I've been a bit lazy with the agitation although I was of course more conscientious about it at the beginning. I am interested to see how you are all going to "measure" your results. Oh whatever. So long as I have some really good useable stuff at the end of the day. :laugh:

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Thank goodness for this thread!

I actually started some vanilla extract last November, hoping for Christmas presents. By Christmas it was obvious it needed more time and it's been practically forgotten ever since. (Oh yeah, and I was insane enough to use Grey Goose. What was I thinking?!)

I can't remember what recipe I followed but I only put in four beans for the whole bottle. It's still pretty pale and I'm going to add more. It has been successfully used in drinks though.

Thanks for the reminder!!

"Vegetables aren't food. Vegetables are what food eats."

--

food.craft.life.

The Lunch Crunch - Our daily struggle to avoid boring lunches

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My jar lives on. One Mason jar, 10 beans sliced and filled with Bourbon. The smell is clearly getting as FatGuy said, still not like my store bought, but hopefully heading in that direction. I'm tryinig to exercise the patience and if all this works out, maybe I'll get jars going at different times so I'll always have a 'vintage' reaching maturity as I need more. Does that sound a bit anal retentive???

-Mark-

---------------------------------------------------------

"If you don't want to use butter, add cream."

Julia Child

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I started my jar about a month ago--500mL vodka, 10 beans split in half. Looks almost like my Penzey's stuff, but I haven't smelled or tasted it, yet.

When I start using my homemade extract, can I top it off with some other alcohol, other than vodka? That means I'd be mixing the two types of alcohol. I was thinking of adding some bourbon next time.

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My jar lives on.  One Mason jar, 10 beans sliced and filled with Bourbon.  The smell is clearly getting as FatGuy said, still not like my store bought, but hopefully heading in that direction.  I'm tryinig to exercise the patience and if all this works out, maybe I'll get jars going at different times so I'll always have a 'vintage' reaching maturity as I need more.  Does that sound a bit anal retentive???

-Mark-

If so, then I am certainly guilty! I have several batches in the works, the oldest close to 2 years, which is usually the maximum steeping period required and it is time to finish the processing and bottle it. I have some neat little bottles with the spring-clip caps (ceramic with rubber sleeve to seal it). In the past I have used very narrow-necked bottles with hard rubber "corks" and I finished the sealing process by dipping the cap in red wax multiple times to get a nice thick coating, then pressed a seal into the still-pliable wax.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Totally intrigued by this thread, I also purchased some beans online (Vanilla Products USA - grade A Tahitian). OMG, the mailbox was never so fragrant! I only ordered 20 beans, and am using some right now to make vanilla sugar, since I don't have a suitable jar for extract right now. After I sliced the pods last night, I enjoyed the residual fragrance on my fingers...didn't want to wash my hands! Have some triple wrapped in saran and one of the sealed packs in a freezer ziploc (stored at room temp) and I can still smell them...heavenly.

"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast" - Oscar Wilde

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After opening my jars and taking some whiffs-the ones doing the best are Madagascar beans in a more expensive vodka-Smirnoff triple filtered.

2nd place went to Mad beans in cheaper vodka. 3rd place to Tahitian beans in cheaper vodka. The last still has a very alcohol smell along with the vanilla smell.

Since I have so much I tried mixing a Mad and Tah batch together to see what happens. I liked the smell right away, but will resmell in a few days.

Jennifer

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When making an extract you have to do a little research on the flavor profile of the beans. When you say that the Tahitians do not smell as good or as rich as the Madagascars there is a reason for that. Madagascar beans, their flavor and aroma, is the most common and the benchmark of what vanilla should look like, smell like, and how it should taste. Take Mexican vanilla for example. It is like the dark roast of vanilla, robust and oily. This would pair well with a spirit that has more flavor to it already such as a spiced rum or high proof bourbon. The Tahitians on the other hand are lighter than both the Mads and the Mexicans but have more spice to them (in the flavor sense not heat) thus they will produce a different end result in the extract making.

Random question off the subject. Can anyone tell me where to get the red wax used to seal bottles like they use on Makers Mark?

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I am not complaining that the Tahitian beans are inferior, I wish I would have splurged on a more expensive vodka for those beans to have their true smell/flavor come thru.

At the begining of the experiment it seemed logical that a cheaper alcohol wouldn't matter....so now I know. IMHO.

I still am very excited about the whole project though.

Jennifer

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Please do not think that I believe you are complaining about the beans at all. I am just very passionate about vanilla and sometimes run on at the mouth about the whole thing. When I use any type of liquor or wine to cook with I always choose something that I would personally drink. This does lead to a more expensive end result but the final product is so much better. I worked with several chef's in London, England when I was going to school their that would only make their stocks (vegetable, chicken, veal, etc.) with bottled water. I could not understand this until I saw the results of rich, clear, beautiful stocks that had only the taste of the ingredients used to make them. The same is true when making a vanilla extract. You were exactly right when you assumed that a cheap vodka would make a good extract, and it will for the everyday person. But when you have someone like us who wants the best flavor and the cleanest taste we have to step things up and buy higher quality ingredients for the project, and in the end we have the best extracts to use.

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The other day I was starting to question my decision to rely on Tahitian vanilla for my own in-home experiment. I bought them without a lot of consideration, and now I wish I'd purchased half Tahitian and half Madagascar.

As luck would have it, one of our members, dmbolus (chef Matt Bolus), is the author of the book "Simply Vanilla" (I've started a topic on the savory cooking aspects of the book here) and his co-author is the owner of the Arizona Vanilla Company. A book and a bunch of Madascar beans just arrived, so I'm going to get those infusing (the beans, not the book) for comparison, probably in vodka.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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