When I moved to Germany three months ago there were things I was prepared for and things that I wasn’t.
What I was prepared for: language differences, crazy techno, drinking until 8am (shhhhh), snow, the absence of sunlight in winter, and a dearth of Mexican food.
What I WASN’T prepared for was the difference in baking supplies. Things I had always considered compulsory-vanilla extract, brown sugar, chocolate chips-were suddenly either completely unavailable or ridiculously expensive. You guys. A tiny-ass package of chocolate chips (maybe half a cup?) costs over 2 euro and claims to contain enough chips to make 20 cookies. They do not. I’d need at least 4 packages to make a batch of chocolate chip cookies which would cost way too much money. I haven’t had a chocolate chip cookie since I moved here.
Brown sugar is available but it is brown granulated sugar, not the dark, sticky stuff you can get in the states. Vanilla extract comes in either tiny glass vials or plastic envelopes and doesn’t taste or smell the same. It is much more sweet and syrupy.
Another surprise is that baking powder comes in packs of paper envelopes, and Germans use vanilla sugar more than vanilla extract, which also comes in paper envelopes. Many German baking recipes use these envelopes as measurements, so it’s not uncommon to see recipes call for “one packet of vanilla sugar, one packet of baking soda”, etc.
I moved to another country armed with all of my American recipes, of course, so these measurements make no sense to me and are not very helpful when I’m trying to re-create my favorite chocolate chip cookies. I’m sure I could figure out how much vanilla sugar to substitute for vanilla extract but not only does that sounds like a pain in the ass, I’m not sure how well it would work. So.
A welcome discovery was that vanilla beans are actually much cheaper than they are in the states and I decided to just make my own vanilla extract. I’ve actually done this once before on a larger scale and ended up with enough to last me almost 2 years. There are tons of formulations for vanilla extract making out there. I think the internet kind of exploded with them a few years back when someone discovered just how crazy easy it is to do.
All you need is cheap vodka, vanilla beans, and time. What?? I know. Also, an added bonus of doing this is that if you ever get desperate you can drink what is essentially your very delicious, very potent vanilla vodka. You’re welcome.
The amount of vodka to vanilla bean varies depending on how much vodka you start out with. I had a teeny bottle (about 1/2 a cup) so I only used one bean. If you have a larger bottle I would use two to three beans. A good ratio to keep in mind is one bean to every 1/2-1 cup of vodka.
First, you want to take the label off of the vodka. You can do this by soaking the bottle in a mix of water and soap for a few hours. After that the label should come right off.
Take your vanilla bean (or beans) and make a vertical cut down the length of the bean, splitting it in two but keeping the ends intact.
Put the bean in the vodka, seal the bottle, and shake to release all the vanilla particles.
Put the bottle in a cool, dark place and shake it every few days for at least a month. It will begin to take on a darker and darker hue, and after a month it is ready to use. That being said, the longer you can stand to let it infuse, the better. Two to three months would be the best.
And ta-da! Vanilla extract. You can also use bourbon or rum as long as it’s high proof. (Bourbon would be super delicious, yeah?) Once it has been infused you can strain out the vanilla particles if you like but I personally don’t think it is necessary.
You can also cut the proportion of vanilla to booze in half, decrease the infusion time, and make vanilla infused booze! More on that later, perhaps?
Wouldn’t this make a great gift for that baker in your life? I’ve also heard of people making giant batches and using them as party (or wedding!) favors. What would you do with your delicious homemade vanilla extract?