Pure Vanilla Extract

***This week’s food photography by Mara Rothbart***

I’ve been looking for ways to expand my repertoire of naturally sweetened desserts.  With the absence of white sugar, it seems important to make sure the other flavors are of great quality in order to achieve great taste. Thus, committed to using the best ingredients, I wanted to find some really great vanilla.  After looking in a few specialty shops, I realized most places carry the same brands.  The same $16/bottle brands, might I add.  Is this reasonable?  I guess if I want top quality, I have to be prepared to spend top dollar, but I wasn’t convinced my search was over so I let it rest for a while.

Fast forward…I go to see the New York Botanical Gardens annual Orchid Show.  It’s incredible.  They have over 300 types of orchids displayed on trellises, fountains, and chandeliers and you’re literally transported to a tropical wonderland of beauty.  Wasn’t it winter, like, a day ago?  Not anymore!  Spring is here and suddenly I’m standing in an 80 degree conservatory surrounded by gorgeous flowers.  Call me a Miami girl, but suddenly nothing could make me happier.  Humidity?  Bring it on.

Anyway, while walking through this orchid fantasy world in the Bronx, we come across the vanilla orchid.  Yep…I had the a-ha moment.  Here’s how it goes…vanilla beans are actually the fruit of the vanilla orchid.  The plant flowers and produces the pods, which hang down, ripen and are eventually harvested to make vanilla extract.  Pretty cool stuff, but you know what’s even cooler?  Making my own vanilla.

Forget spending $16 dollars a bottle, instead I’ll just spend $2 a bean.  To be honest, after purchasing all of my ingredients this actually saves me no money.  But that’s fine.  What I’m losing in dollars, I’m making up for in awesomeness.  All it takes is some cheap vodka, a few vanilla beans, and in about 6 weeks it’s ready.  It can even steep for longer if you’d like.  More soaking equals more flavor.  Mmm…this is going to do wonders for us all.

Vanilla Extract

  • 4 Vanilla Beans
  • 1/2 cup Vodka

Split each vanilla bean pod lengthwise down the middle.  Using the edge of a knife blade, scrape out the beans and place them in a jar.  Cut the bean pods into quarters and place into jar.  Add the vodka.  Tightly screw on lid and store in a dark place for 5-6 weeks.  Lasts until it’s gone!