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A Study in Vanilla

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Army Vet turned Domestic Goddess now creates sensational vanilla extracts, powders, paste, infused spices, and more.
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Photo by Arshad Sutar on Pexels.com

My friend Debbie

Debbie is an Army Veteran turned grandma, as well as priceless friend/adopted family to many. She was one of the very first people I met when we first moved to Oklahoma a year ago. Frankly, her friendship is one of the most precious I’ve ever been blessed to treasure. I feel safe with her, like we could talk about anything under the sun or stars. Sometimes we do.

Debbie is a domestic goddess. She has been comfortable in the kitchen for longer than I have been alive, learning how to cook and bake anything her heart desires, and has been in her fair share of amazing baking competitions in her life. Now she spends most of her time creating the most sensational vanilla extracts, powders, paste, infused spices, and more. She truly is a goddess in her craft.

Once in a while, much to the chagrin of any and all experimental foodies in the entire world (whether others want to admit it or not), our experiments don’t always turn out on the very first try. I believe strongly in showcasing some of my errors, as I have done a couple times in this blog, because they are excellent teaching moments for us all to grow from. This is one of Deb’s stories in the same vein. Spoiler alert: I’ve sampled everything she has made, and it still turned out heavenly. Deb’s vanilla products are the tops, across the board.

“Vanilla Chronicles”

All of Deb’s commentary is in italics.

First off:  always read your recipe several times to make sure you understand it. Please do not look at other recipes while making said recipe. My first mistake was reading four other recipes for making paste. Yes there were several differences in this process. The following recipe is the primary one from this study.

RECIPE: Vanilla Paste (just like Nielsen Massey’s) ©Whitney Olsen, 2012

I have updated this recipe to be virtually identical to Nielsen Massey vanilla paste. This recipe makes approximately one quart of vanilla bean paste. (You read that right! 32 ounces, or EIGHT TIMES the size of Nielsen Massey’s little bottles, for a fraction of the cost!) I used a half-pound of our ultra-premium vanilla beans, since they have more caviar per bean than the premium grade vanilla beans do. This recipe is a little time consuming but not difficult, and the end product is TOTALLY worth it.

Buy a 750 mL bottle of vodka if you want to use your empty pods to make vanilla extract after! IndriVanilla Vanilla Bean Paste 8 oz. (1/2 lb.) IndriVanilla beans 14 oz. rum, divided (I used spiced rum, but white/silver, gold, or Caribbean would work fine as well. I wouldn’t recommend dark rum. Be sure to use at least 80 proof rum.) 20 oz. sugar 16 oz. water 1/4 c. corn syrup (to prevent crystallization) 1/2 fresh lime or lemon (also to prevent crystallization) OR 1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice 3/4 to 1 1/2 teaspoons xanthan gum (as fine as you can locate–some xanthan gum is gritty/grainy. Ideally, it will be the texture of cornstarch.) 

1. A week or more ahead of when you want to make your vanilla paste (though I know you want to make it right now!), put 12 oz of the rum and vanilla beans together in a large, freezer-gauge zippered bag. Force the air out and allow it to sit for at least seven days

((If using beans that have already been in extraction you might want to decrease this by 2 oz. I didn’t but it was not as thick as her recipe was. It was still very good paste)) 

2. Pour the liquid off the vanilla beans and into a heavy saucepan or small pot.

((I used a medium size saucepan and almost went with the bigger pan))

Wearing rubber gloves if desired, cut all the beans open and scrape their contents into the pan, then toss the empty pods in, too (they contain a natural thickening agent!)

((I did split the beans but instead of scraping the pod, cut it in half and placed it in the pan. Since the beans I used had been sitting in extraction for a year I figured it would need to take much to get the caviar out. It was flowing))

Add the sugar, water, corn syrup, and juice of the half lime.

((I used lemon juice from a bottle)) 

3. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly with a silicone or rubber spatula. Boil 5-15 minutes, until the mixture reaches slightly thinner than your desired consistency (the mixture will thicken as it cools, and you will thicken it as well). It will be clumpy. Using a large strainer, strain the whole mixture very carefully into your blender

((Here is where I made a mistake twice when I made this recipe. I forgot to replace my paddle back into the blender. Yes two times))

Set the empty pods aside–they can be made into vanilla extract still! You can put rubber gloves on again here and use your fingers to scrape off any additional caviar from the vanilla beans.

((DO NOT PLACE IN THE BLENDER–I did this the first time and it was a tad bitter to the taste. It still worked great. This was a mistake from the first time I made it.))

4. Turn the blender on its lowest speed with the lid on. Turn up the speed until you see the hole appear in the middle, indicating the mixture is moving enough to add xanthan gum to it. Remove the lid. (Xanthan gum will clump immediately upon encountering liquids and must be added VERY slowly to the moving mixture). Add the xanthan gum in 1/4 tsp. increments, dusting the xanthan gum over the surface of the moving liquid. Don’t add the whole 1/4 tsp. at a time or it will clump. Dust, dust, dust! Turn the blender off periodically and check the consistency. If the caviar rises to the surface, you need more xanthan gum. Once it stops floating to the top, you don’t need to add any more. I used 1 1/4 tsp. After the xanthan gum has been added, blend in the remaining 2 oz of rum. 

5. Using a jar funnel, pour your vanilla paste into a quart-sized jar. Shake occasionally as it cools to suspend the caviar in the base. Use per your recipe, or: 1 teaspoon paste = 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 tablespoon = 1 vanilla bean. 

ENJOY! STORAGE INFORMATION: Pour a small amount of finished vanilla extract on the top of the paste to help prevent mold formation.  To make extract with the empty vanilla bean pods, pour the vodka into a saucepan. Stuff the empty vodka bottle with the scraped vanilla bean pods. Bring the vodka just to a boil and use a funnel to return it very carefully to the bottle.

((Do not put the beans in the bottle first. Yep I did. I woke up the next day and thought over what I did the day before. And reread the recipe and found this out. So I poured the alcohol into a sauce pan leaving the pods in the bottle and brought it to a boil before replacing it back in the bottle))

Steep a minimum of 4-6 weeks before using. ((Because of my mistake above, the extraction had already started. But after the heat process it turned even darker while sitting)) 

Store any extra vodka in a bottle or jar and use it to top off the bottle when the vanilla extract level starts to drop. The bottle will make extract for several years. Add additional vanilla beans or scraped vanilla bean pods every few years to keep the flavor strong.)

Conclusion

It’s often easier to focus on a brand new recipe from someone when we have a printed hard copy. Don’t try new recipes off of your mobile device unless you’re confident that’s your best method. And, like Deb says, focus on one recipe at a time.

If you’re interested in saving a ton of money in your own food budget, I recommend joining a vanilla purchasing co-op like she did, where they not only help you get access to grade A vanilla beans, but also teach you the myriad of ways to utilize the entire bean so you get your money’s worth every time.

And always be sure to continue to provide bottles, jars, ingredients, extra supplies, and delicious bakes to your local aficionado to show them how much you appreciate their work.

Happy recipe journeys to you all!

If you have a fun baking experience, recipe, or lifestyle story which you would like to share as a featured guest, please reach out to me through my contact page.