Oh, vanilla beans… you have become so painfully expensive and thus all of your derivative products have also become unpleasant to my wallet. Why must you tease me so? You are the backbone of all I bake and make. The stand-alone flavor in all of its glory, or the hidden support system that helps other flavors to delight the palette more confidently.
And you cost a flippin’ arm and leg right now, and I can’t wrap my head around these ridiculous prices.
You’ve forced my hand, tricky little beans. So rather than buy the things that you contribute to making, I’ll simply buy you, raw and unprocessed, and make my own paste, extract and bonus vanilla sugar.
It feels like dealing with my kids when they refuse to clean the dishes they just made: “If I have to do this myself, no one’s going to be happy about it. I don’t have time for this!”
Alas, it’s what I did anyways. And while the initial “investment” (because that’s what it was to buy a pound of vanilla beans) felt ridiculous, it was a necessary thing to do. Vanilla goes with everything! And I cannot justify spending $28.99 on a 4-ounce bottle of it any longer. Making it would save money and produce what is likely a better product. And my Perfect Vanilla Cake requires the best I can get my hands on!
Not to mention I love fussing like this in the kitchen. : )
Before you ask, I got these glorious, plump, beans from Beanilla. They were NOT the cheapest option, but they know their beans and have a passion for what they sell. That will win me over every time. You can count on quality when a company clearly has a passion for their product and wants to share their quality with you so you can make the best decision for your needs.
I got premium grade Madagascar Bourbon beans. I was considering the Grade B beans which would have done fine for what I’m doing, but they were out.
The difference between Premium and Grade B? Grade B are not as plump, juicy or pretty. They are thinner. That doesn’t affect their flavor or ability to make vanilla extract, however. (See? I learned this there! Now I can better buy my beans anywhere!)
I saw this difference immediately when I opened the package.
If you’ve ever purchased a couple of beans at the supermarket from the spice rack in a sealed glass jar, those are very much Grade B beans. And if that’s what you’re accustomed to, let me encourage you to treat yourself and your baked goods to some Premium beans at least once. It IS a treat!
When they arrived I did a happy dance a sent a picture to my other cakey half Aaron, of Man versus Cake. I haven’t held that many beans in my hand since culinary school and they most certainly weren’t worth that much at that time. He thought I was a bit nuts. He’s used to it.
I had to set them aside painfully to do other things that day and couldn’t play with making my first batch of vanilla bean paste until the following evening.
So I strolled the interwebs searching for the perfect method and recipe and looking for commonalities so I could try my hand at my own formulation. You know me 😉
I did find a commonality: it’s simple and only requires four ingredients on average.
HAPPY DANCE ALL OVER THE PLACE!!!
Dude! I could crank this out easy and be ready to use this glorious concoction right away! Who doesn’t love instant gratification?!?
One note: it gets better with aging. Let it sit for some time and the bean deepens and infuses every last liquid suspension molecule entirely thus carrying the glorious bean’s flavor farther in your baking adventures.
Still, I may have tasted some from my spoon to compare as I made two different batches to test ratios and methods.
SPOILER ALTER: they produce two very different products. The similarity in them? They cost at least 38% less than what you’ll buy in a finished paste at the store. At least for my local prices. And THAT alone is worth the effort. Which again was minimal anyway.
Doing it myself cost me $4.53 per ounce. At my grocery store, I pay $7.25 per ounce. Um… That’s 37.52% cheaper! (And that’s when you use my extra bean recipe… You can go down in beans to the standard strength with a dozen beans and it costs $2.97 per ounce which is a 41% savings!)
The two methods I tested were adding hot syrup to the raw beans THEN processing them in a grinder to a paste, and grinding the raw beans with granulated sugar first then making a hot syrup with it after.
And I found something interesting. The one that I ground first with sugar has a stringy quality to it after being boiled. I attribute that to perhaps boiling the sugar a bit more and not seeing the sugar as it boiled down since the beans were in the pot. This method did, however, produce a smoother final product after straining. And you could see the difference in how well ground they were if you looked at the remaining pulp that was captured by my mesh sieve.
What I liked more about the other version where I cooked the beans first: it was easier to strain and it was far more concentrated. Granted, some of this is due to the ratio I used as well. But the slight bits of “non-smoothness” in this batch doesn’t bother me. It was far thicker.
Since I was testing two different methods and recipes, I can’t adequately compare the outcome. I would need to first test one ratio against each method, then test one method at a time against each ratio. So four more batches…
Ok. Fine. Pull my arm science. 🙂
In the end, it was the method that was the determining factor with how I will produce it again. I choose the less messy one. Having to add hot sugar to beans THEN grind causes mess I don’t enjoy. I’m happier to grind them with sugar first. Less clean up.
I didn’t like the less intense taste of the recipe attached to this batch (even though it’s very similar to what you’ll buy commercially) so changed it to strengthen it. More beans. You can use the same quantity of paste in your recipes and get a stronger flavor from the vanilla, or you can reduce the amount of paste you use. I’d rather bump the intensity. More of those crazy beautiful little vanilla bean seeds flecked throughout.
So here it is. My preferred method AND ratio thus far. But keep reading past the recipe to see how you can use every last bit of your beans! No leftovers!
So you’ll have this pulp left over from straining your paste and by GOLLY do NOT throw that out! You can use that to make a great batch of vanilla extract! No, you don’t need to use whole beans to make it and since these are already shredded with lots of surface area exposed you’re going to infuse your alcohol quickly.
What alcohol to use? I dislike vodka. It’s too “alcohol-y” for me. I know. “Kara… it’s alcohol. Of course, it’s going to be alcohol-y”. But there’s an alternative, well, a few alternatives, that you can choose from to suit your tastes.
I prefer rum since it’s warm and has vanilla notes already. You can also use brandy or bourbon whiskey. Those at least have flavor to them, so they contribute to the extract. These make me much happier than vodka. Give ‘em a try!
*NOTE: This recipe will be gooey when you use it. It’s not the easiest to scoop out of your jar. But it’s worth it. The intensity of the flavor is amazing. If you wanted it less stringy, use more water in your recipe, but then you are diluting its strength and need to use more paste to achieve the same flavor in your recipes. Six to one, half dozen to the other.
And let me tell you, I’ve never had such amazing vanilla bean Swiss Meringue Buttercream!!! Use it in the exact same quantity listed in my recipe for SMBC. Holy. Crow!!!
Further, since you have to cut the hard ends off the beans before grinding for your paste, add those ends to some granulated white sugar in an airtight container. Every time you have a vanilla bean pod, even if you’ve boiled it with cream or used it in extract, rinse it off, allow it to air dry, then add it to your vanilla sugar bin. The more you add, the better the sugar gets! I’ve kept beans for up to two years in the containers before switching, and just continuing to add more sugar as it got used.
Clearly I love the stuff because you got two eye candy pictures of it 😀
What to use vanilla sugar for: your coffee!!! Seriously as it develops, it becomes potent, and you can taste it in your coffee easily. It’s glorious! Also, coating cookies like shortbread. Anything you need to finish with a sprinkle of sugar benefits from this upscale version of pure sugar. Can you bake other things with it for a gentle hint of sugar? Yep! Go for it! But since I put vanilla in everything already I prefer to save it for my coffee and tea.
And now you’ve used every last bit of your beans.