Alright, this is hardly a post at all – but you know, I don’t want to rely *too* heavily on reposting from the Rock Salt archives, so this seemed like a nice solution. Fresh content without spending a long while uploading photos or trying (and perhaps failing) to think of interesting words to say about them.
Vanilla essence is one of those things that can be quite divisive among bakers. I think we all know that you should really use the real stuff – vanilla extract, from one of those sturdy-looking and expensive bottles. Failing that, you should buy vanilla beans and scrape the seeds in to whatever you’re making – these are expensive, too. So, with expense in mind, I will admit to using generic, own-brand vanilla extract from whatever supermarket I’m in when I need the stuff.
There, I said it.
However, more recently I’ve been brewing up my own vanilla essence, and it’s painfully simple to do. No excuses now, folks. Start with one vanilla pod, and carefully split it open without spilling the seeds everywhere (if you can). Now, place it in a nice wee bottle and fill with vodka. Leave to develop for at least a week and BAM – you’ve got vanilla essence, ready to be used and topped up again.
I used a 50ml bottle, which had formerly held violet liqueur, and topped it up with Bison Grass vodka, only because that’s what I had on top of my fridge, where I keep the booze. This vodka has quite a strong flavour of its own, which I happen to like, but you can use a plainer vodka if you prefer.
The colour starts to develop quite fast, but the flavour takes a little longer.
I have no idea what that red thing is in the background of this photo. My kitchen is a bit of a riot.
After the first time I used my new vanilla essence, I topped the bottle up with bourbon instead of vodka. This adds a lovely dimension to the essence, in colour as well as flavour. ‘Bourbon vanilla’ is actually the name of one of the most common kinds of vanilla you can buy, and the name prompted me to think that putting actual bourbon in my essence would be a good idea. It was. It really, really was. I reckon you could also try a bit of brandy, if you are into brandy. Because you use the essence in small amounts, the booze only adds a subtle flavour to the whole recipe, but I do believe that adding the bourbon has added sweetness and smokiness to the flavour of the essence, and therefore to the flavour of my vanilla flavoured baked goods.
This one vanilla pod (which was a Foodie Penpals gift) has lasted for months now, with top-ups every time I use it. So far it’s still giving off a vanilla flavour and scent, though my last load of baking did completely empty the bottle so I’ve started from scratch again. My advice is to top the bottle up every time you use any, and maybe to use a bigger bottle… This is a great way to make a vanilla pod last longer and get your money’s worth, without resorting to the synthetic and inferior flavourings you can so easily buy.
I won’t disown anyone for using them – and I do have a bottle in the cupboard for those times when the homemade stuff has run out or is infusing – but there is another way.