Growing up in California has it’s perks. I could list quite a few of them, but one of them was living close to Mexico. The food, the crafts, the blankets, the food, the food…
Growing up, my family would take trips to Mexico on occasion, along with friends. Whenever anyone went down, my family would chip in $40-$50 in a pool for them to bring us back a few things. At the very top of that list was always some pure Mexican vanilla extract.
Most vanilla extracts that you buy at the grocery store are imitation (it says right there on the label, if you’ve ever checked). If you do buy pure vanilla extract, it typically comes in a very small bottle and/or with a very large price tag.
The Mexican vanilla extract, however, came back in a big bottle that could last up to a year and a half (and I bake regularly, so that’s saying something). And the best part? The price tag. It was always around five bucks a pop for about a 16oz bottle of it. And it was good! I could really taste the vanilla flavoring when just using a small spoonful. The complexity of the flavor from the pure Mexican beans they were made with really added to whatever I was baking.
If there’s a baker in your family and Mexico isn’t a ready option for your place to go for Christmas shopping, making it yourself shows you care and will add life to their baking cabinet. Plus, you can choose the flavor by carefully selecting the type of vanilla bean or the alcohol you use for it. This way, I’ve found I can use Mexican vanilla beans and get that same flavor I grew up with, even though I moved out of California for the east coast.
So the first job you have is selecting the vanilla beans you’ll use. They’re a little difficult to find sometimes, and can be a tad pricey, but I recommend using http://www.beanilla.com/ for your purchases. The shipping is free and you have your choice of beans from around the world there.
For a darker flavor, try Mexican beans, which is my personal favorite. For more of a fruity, chocolatey flavor, try Tahitian beans. For a rich, creamy vanilla, use Madagascar beans. There are many more to choose from, so if you feel like checking it out, do some research before picking them.
This year, I won’t have enough time for the extraction process to finish by the time I hand over the bottles as gifts, but I see that as half the fun. It’ll make it seem more homemade and pure if they get to see it through its final few weeks of the extraction process. The liquid becomes darker, so they can see how it progresses. If you choose a pretty bottle, it can make a pretty decoration on their kitchen counter in the meantime.
- 3 vanilla beans
- 1 cup brandy, vodka, or bourbon
- Take the vanilla beans and split them in half, but leave about half an inch at the top, making it look like a wishbone.
- Put the beans in your air-tight sealable bottle and fill it with the brandy or your choice of alcohol. Make sure the beans are completely covered by the alcohol.
- Store your bottle somewhere cool and dry, checking up on it and giving it a little shake every week. It's always fun watching the liquid get darker as the vanilla is extracted.
- Tie a bow on it and there you are! The recipient will love you for the rich flavor you've given them to cook with.