A few days ago I made a pint of vanilla extract. The same formula I’ve been making for years. It spurred a conversation with our oldest daughter about how popular vanilla beans, vanilla extract, and vanilla paste are in a specialty store where she works part time. Curiosity sparked my interest and sent me on a merry jaunt around the internet. I now know that paste is used when the brown flecks from grinding the pod will enhance the look of your dish. Site after site said the palatable difference between paste and extract is negligible. Substitution ratio is 1 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon. Paste is made by finely grinding vanilla pods with sugar and adding vanilla extract. Vanilla extract is chopped vanilla pods placed in rum, vodka, or bourbon.
Knowledge is an enticing thing and my search through the differences of the three alcohols used has lured me to try bourbon when making vanilla next time. Vodka was fine for most of my baking like cookies and quick breads but custards, ice cream, and dishes where vanilla is the main show has me wanting a more complex flavor. Bourbon peaked my attention. It is more expensive than vodka so I researched the brand reported to be the best quality for the price.
I’m longing for homemade ice cream again. I stopped making it when we suddenly grew to a family of six. I want to try short bread cookies, and a vanilla pudding that will make my husband swoon if he knew what that was.
I checked with some online articles in brewing magazines. Yes, they speak of vanilla. Who knew – well maybe someone who drank. But after reading about how well others like the taste of bourbon with vanilla, I thought I’d try. No, I’m not going to start imbibing. I can’t get past the nasal nausea of alcohol even if I had an interest. But knowledge leads to possibilities and growth so I studied how Bourbon is made in charred oak barrels. The oak imparts flavor while the charring opens the pours to increase the amount of penetration of the alcohol.
This piece of learning led me to discover barrel chips. These expensive barrels can only be used once and then they must be cast off so what happens to them you ask? Some find there way into other alcohol making adventures but a small percentage are used in the making of fine vanilla where it does the same thing as it does for bourbon. They speak of a smooth, mellow flavor which sounds nice.
First you make and age your vanilla and then place the spiral shaped charred oak piece in the jar for a few days to two weeks. The spiral shape helps cradle the liquid and increases penetration. The oak chip can be used in another vanilla jar one more time before being cast off once more. I’m thinking the wood stove as it would make the house smell like heaven.
So I’m headed to the liquor store for bourbon this time, Kentucky Gentleman as recommended and will order online an oak spiral. I have a feeling my vanilla is about to become something of beauty.