Add an extra layer of flavor to your baked goods by making your own vanilla extract from bourbon
We are coming up on that time of year. Everyone loves homemade baked goodies at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Think of the pies, cakes, cookies, and snacks that will adorn holiday tables throughout the season.
What’s the one ingredient just about all of these baked goodies have in common? Vanilla extract. What if there was a way to add even more flavor to your recipe when you add vanilla? There is, if you make your own from Kentucky bourbon and whole vanilla beans.
The vanilla extract you buy at the grocery is made by soaking chopped vanilla beans in ethyl alcohol so that vanillin, the main flavor compound in the bean, is pulled from the bean to the alcohol. The ethyl alcohol used in the process is pretty bland. It doesn’t bring much to the flavor party on its own. Substituting good Kentucky bourbon adds another dimension to the finished product. Just like regular vanilla extract, the alcohol in the bourbon version evaporates with the heat of cooking, making it safe for all ages.
What bourbon works best? Just like wine for cooking, choose something you would normally drink. Since most commercially produced vanilla extracts are about 40% alcohol, I go with a similar proof bourbon. The Evan Williams Realtree Outdoorsman Edition is perfect at 86 proof (43%) alcohol. Not only does it come with a spiffy Realtree camo label, but it’s also a fine sipping bourbon.
If you’ve never shopped for vanilla beans, you might be shocked at their cost. While you can often find them in the spice section of your local grocery, online is the way to go for the best price. Vanilla beans come in either A or B grades. Grade A beans are larger, plumper, and way more expensive. For projects like this vanilla extract, grade B beans are just fine and way more economical. For a pint of extract, I prefer to start with around 10 grade B beans. You can get by with fewer, but it will take a longer soak time to get the same rich vanilla flavor.
You can taste the vanilla flavor in the bourbon after as little as a week of soaking, but leaving the beans in for 6 to 8 weeks develops a much richer flavor. That means you should start now if you want it ready for holiday baking. The good news? This vanilla never goes bad and continues gaining flavor the longer the beans are in the bourbon. You can even replace the used portion with fresh bourbon after each use to keep your vanilla going for years.
Ingredients and materials:
1 pint Evan Williams Realtree Outdoorsman Edition Bourbon
10 Grade B vanilla beans, split down the center
1 clean pint jar
Start by splitting the beans lengthwise down the center so that the flavor leaches out at a faster rate.
I like to use the tip of a knife to scrape the paste from the center of a couple of split beans to add directly to the jar so that tiny flecks of vanilla float through the finished product.
Add the split beans to the jar and fill with Evan Williams Bourbon. Screw on the lid and place the jar in a cool, dark place for a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks. Use in any recipe calling for vanilla extract in equal amounts.
Besides making the best-tasting baked goods you have ever eaten, your homemade bourbon vanilla extract makes the perfect gift. Make it in bulk and transfer to smaller, decorative bottles or jars for a gift everyone can use.
To keep the vanilla at peak strength, replace one or two of the beans occasionally. Don’t discard the used beans, though. Pat them dry with a clean paper towel and place them in a container of white sugar. The sugar will absorb both the vanilla and bourbon flavors from the bean. Use it in any recipe calling for white sugar.
Besides boosting your baking recipes, you can drizzle your bourbon vanilla over ice cream or add it to your favorite cola for a delicious bourbon cola adult drink.
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