Putting Vanilla Pods to Good Use

van2Have you ever balked at the high cost of pure vanilla extract? I know I have! A teeny little bottle can run upwards of $6 or $7, and I’m talking only 8 ounces of the good stuff. This is a little tutorial on what you do about it.

This can also be a great handmade gift for your special friend who loves to bake. Its easy to assemble, but you do need to let it marinate for several weeks, so if this has you thinking Christmas or Hannukah gifties make this now!

Get a bottle of a good quality vodka. I got a 357ml bottle of Absolute. You really want something that has good flavor. Its like cooking with wine, you want something that tastes good. So don’t skimp, even though it will be imbued with vanilla you will still get the flavor of the alcohol. If its bottom shelf swill, you may regret it later!

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Florrie, always the daredevil, decided to stray off the beaten path and use burbon for her batch, that should be divine! Since the bourbon is already a lovely caramel color the vanilla will get really dark and pretty. Bourbon is such an aromatic liquor that it should be something really special. When I asked her what it smelled like before she added the vanilla she replied, “Smokey and oaky and slighty vanillaery. Rich and complex, like a fine southern gentleman.”

She is such a minx. :O)

So! Let’s begin, shall we?

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Shop around to find the best price on vanilla beans. They can be pretty pricey. After some hunting I found a little grocery that sells two beans in a little vial for only $5, but I have seen them for as much as $8 for only one bean, so keep your eyes open.

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Grab a sharp little knife and split the pod lengthwise so we can get at all those lovely little black beans inside.

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Drag the edge of the knife along the split pod and scrape them out. Do this for each pod, and then put everything into your vodka. Pods and all.

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Put the lid on tightly and store in a dark cupboard for at least 6 weeks, if not longer. Take it out once a week and give it a little shake. Over time it will turn a lovely mahogany color, and the vanilla flavor will develop and deepen. Then you can use it for baking, cocktails or whatever you want! You can pour into individual pretty bottles for holiday gift giving, or put it in your pantry for yourself.

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This vanilla has only been sitting for about 3 weeks, and look at the color. When you give it a shake, you can see all the little beans floating throughout. Gorgeous!

Another great way to use vanilla pods is making Vanilla Sugar. Vanilla sugar is great to have around for baking (think crunchy toppings on muffins and yummy cookies)  for sprinkling on warm buttered toast, putting in your tea or coffee. Its pretty to look at and it smells like heaven. Its a breeze to make, too!

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You only need three things to begin. An airtight container, enough granulated sugar to fill said container, and a couple of vanilla pods. Don’t feel obligated to use white table sugar, though that works just fine. How about organic light brown sugar, or demerara sugar or even molassass-ey dark brown sugar.

Start by pouring your sugar into the container. I got a nice hermetic jar from the Container Store. Just make sure the mouth of the jar easily admits some sort of measuring cup or large spoon. It will save you some hassel later.

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Then do the same thing you did with the vanilla extract, split the pod and scrape out the seeds. Chuck the insides and the pods into the sugar, seal up the jar and give it a hearty shake to distribute.

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You can see some little clumps of vanilla in the sugar, but its just cause its a new batch.

The fresh beans do carry some moisture, so you may see some initial clumping, but the beans will distribute with agitation and with time. The beauty of it is you can just keep adding sugar to the jar as it gets low, and add in an occasional bean to keep the flavor strong.

vanilla3This would also be a terrific holiday gift in a pretty jar with some ribbon. What are you waiting for! :O)

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