the making.. of my own grey goose vanilla bean extract

[ Tuesday, June 17, 2008 | Leave a Comment ]
Safe to say - I'm a newly converted baker. I've been trying to tackle the meringue, souffle , creme brulee and the like. The one thing I've already been spoiled on is with vanilla. Yes, regular (fake) vanilla extract is cheap and it gets the job done - but after doing taste tests with my current fan-favorite #1 dessert, creme brulee, the tallies are in and real vanilla bean is a true hit. If I am not going to skimp on egg yolk or heavy cream, why mess around? Initially, cost was a major factor - $5-10 for one or 2 small beans just wasn't worth about half the bulk ingredient cost for making creme brulee.

Fast forward to 2 weeks ago - my first shipment of Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans arrived at work. I ordered them from The Vanilla Food Company. They're great and everything went smoothly. The order arrived 2 days afterwards (their warehouse shipment arrived the day after I ordered!! yum). They arrived at work and suddenly, we had our own scene from Harold & Kumar (take a look at just 1:19 at the very end.. it was *just* like that!). Moist, pliable and extremely aromatic (100+ beans have to be, I guess)

Now for some vanilla bean pix:

Okay, okay - onto the vanilla extract-making process. I was researching a bunch of different recipes, but they all pointed to the FDA's baseline of what percentage of vanilla extract was needed in a base alcohol (ethyl) to be "standard". Some math:

FDA (1-fold extract):

13.35 ounces (25% moisture) per gallon of 35-40% alcohol. 1 ounce is about 8 beans.

How many per litre (3.8L per gallon)?
13.35/3.8 = 3.53 ounces per litre

How many per cup (~250ml)?
3.53/4 = 0.88 ounces per cup

How many beans?
0.88 ounces * 8 beans (for 1-fold)= 7 beans per cup

So I need 7 beans for a 1-fold strength. I'm thinking, since all the pros use 2-fold or more, lets put 14 beans in this one cup. NatC suggested from all this effort, I might as well make 2 cups (14 beans/500 mL) and just leave it at 1-fold strength and add more beans later if i want to increase the strength.

empty, darkish bottle (I used my old 750mL Delaforce Tawny Port bottle)
500mL vodka (1L+ of Grey Goose was just sitting around)
14 said Madagascar Boubon beans
3 knives (more on this later)

[empty port bottle, beans, my "vanilla knife", grey goose]

I apologize for the lack of photos as working with vanilla is a very messy/sticky business. Maybe I'll get someone to video tape next time =) The knife is actually a cutco knife that got melted while one of my parents left it on the stove! Hence the shrivelled/"vanilla" look.

[splitting, scraping, cutting knives]

You don't need a serated "splitting" knife, but it seemed to have the sharpest and narrow tip to get into the bean-ends. It's important to use a fairly dull "scraping" knife to harvest the beans and not really damage the bean too much.

To start off, I cut off the ends of the beans and put them in the bottle. I used the very tip (approx 5mm) of the splitting knife to slice the thin side of each bean lengthwise starting at one end, going all the way to the other. I then used the scraping knife to gather the beans/caviar, using multiple swipes and carefully tapped the beans into the bottle (also using the cutting knife to help scrape the splitting knife). After scraping all the beans, I chopped up the empty bean shells into 1" sections and added them into the bottle. I poured 500mL of the vodka into the bottle and shook vigorously. Looks like sticks in liquid or logs at the bottom of a lake =)

I'm keeping the bottle in the cellar and will probably vigorously shake the bottle once a day for the next week or so. In weeks 2-5, probably shake it 2-3 times/week. By week 4-5, I'm hoping the extract will be amazing! It already smells like a high quality vanilla vodka, go figure.

Stay tuned! It has also been recommended that the bean shells, etc be filtered out after 6 months. The extract should grace with age and, ahem, be like a "fine wine".


  • Denise said:  

    WOW, great blog and I think I will try out the vanilla recipe ....


  • Natalie said:  

    Sounds like a successful venture so far! I have yet to start my extract, but I look forward to a "taste test" in a few months. I'm glad to have been of help!

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