One night last month I spent several hours baking all kinds of goodies: cookies, brownies, cakes, and so on. The one ingredient they all had in common was vanilla extract.
Vanilla is for baking what salt and pepper is for cooking— it enhances the flavor of everything! Vanilla pods are enclosed in beans produced by orchids, which only opens once a year, justifying their expensive prices. It is cultivated in a number of tropical countries like Madagascar, Indonesia, Uganda, India, and Papa New Guinea, but the most prized ones come from Madagascar, Mexico, and Tahiti.
When vanilla beans are harvested, it doesn’t really taste as we know it. The aroma develops later, during the drying and fermentation process. And the result is a bean that is soft and oily, slightly sweet, tasting almost caramel, with a far undertone of camphor, perfect for cookies, brownies, cakes and a world of baking.
Length matters: the longer, the better— the more flavor it will have.
A good vanilla bean, with its astounding range of familiar tastes, transports you to a mystical place. After hours of confectioning and flavoring everything with vanilla, I decided to step back and started to contemplate on how the extract is made. The answer is simple: essentially alcohol infused with vanilla beans or compound.
And then my typical self came out: why not try to make a vanilla extract at home? And with a Brazilian alcohol beverage instead? Cachaça of course! The national spirit of Brazil varies in flavor from floral to cinnamon, herbal to fiery, and it might just work great!
I made a trip to The Container store and bought a jar/ glass bottle with a cork top, like this
My experiment was easy and pleasureable. And now I can give a touch of Brazilian flavor even to the most American of sweets.
Brazilian Vanilla extract
Makes 1 small jar of 4 oz
2 vanilla beans, very moist and oily, split length-wise
½ cup (125 ml) cachaça
1- Sterilize the container by simmering in hot water.
2- Put the vanilla beans inside the glass jar and cover with cachaça, completely submerging the beans. If the beans are taller than the jar, cut it.
3- Close the bottle and let it stand in a cool dark place for at least 6 weeks before using. The extract is done when is dark and fragrant.
Have fun making your own! And let me know about it!