Way back when I was home for winter break (I know, it seems like ages ago), I was out grocery shopping with my dad around town, and we passed by this mediterranean specialty foods store and both had a huge urge to go in. Lucky we did, cause that’s where we found raw, unsalted, fresh pistachios for baking (and you’ll see what I made with those babies), dolmathes (my dad loves ’em), and, most excitingly of all, fresh vanilla beans. I’m not taking about those shrivelled things 4 inches long you get in a mcCormick’s jar, one for $9. I’m talking about the real deal, a good 9-10 inch, plump, fragrant bean pod, and only a few dollars each.
When we got home with all of our spoils, I was so excited to do something with my precious vanilla bean. I had been wanting to cook with a real one for a long time, but never could find one in New Haven and kind of put it to the back of my mind, waiting for the right time.
As the days went by over break, though, I found that I was hesitant to use my vanilla bean. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t decide on what I should make! Should I use it in a luscious crème anglaise? A vanilla-scented chocolate soufflé? Should I infuse it into alcohol for cocktails? Alas I couldn’t bring myself to use it in any one thing, because then I wouldn’t be able to make all the other things I so wanted to use it for.
Paralysed by my conundrum, the answer came to me lying in bed after big night of cooking and entertaining. I would smuggle the vanilla bean back with me to school and make vanilla extract. It would be perfect. I could make my own extract, a huge jar of it, and have the precious essence to use whenever I liked. Sure, it wouldn’t be the same as using fresh vanilla bean in everything, but I only had one bean and I wanted to make it last.
Fast forward two months. I’m back at school, the semester is almost halfway done, and my vanilla bean is sitting in my closet, wrapped tightly in zip-loc bags to prevent it from drying out. I have been waiting to procure a handle of vodka to make my vanilla extract with. Finally, at long last, do I become legal in this country. And as my inaugural liquor store purchase, I decide it is very fitting to buy the handle of vodka that is to be elevated to the ambrosial realm, kissed by my sweet sweet vanilla bean.
Hope you don’t mind the fingerprints.
Here is the recipe I first saw on tastespotting that gave me the inspiration, but since I had only one vanilla bean and one big jar that Jacquie gave me from the farm, I decided what the hell, I’ll just make a big batch with the whole handle, and make it an exercise in patience. It might take a while for the one little bean to infuse the whole jarful, but when it does… oh boy, watch out. Vanilla-laced baking up the wazoo — not to mention loads of the perfect little gift.
After splitting the bean down the middle and leaving the ends intact to release all the paste inside, putting it in the jar with the vodka and sealing it up, I’m going to leave it in my closet where it’s cool and dark. When I check on it every couple days, I need to give it a big shake to help the bean infuse into the vodka.
Coaxing along my mere bean and liquor to amber-coloured glory with a vigorous shake every few days? Now that’s my kind of study break.