I'm getting 50 vanilla pods through the mail, and I thought a great use would be to infuse some alcohol. I've heard you can make vanilla extract with vodka, though I'm not quite sure how it works.
Can someone tell me:
How many pods to put in? I've heard between 4 and 10
What goes best? I like Sailor Jerry's, so I was thinking dark rum, maybe some brandy?
How the vanilla extract thing works
The beans are 15-17cm btw. Thanks in advance!
3 per 375ml bottle; leave for 3-6 months in a dark place (ie under the sink, in the closet, in a locked drawer)
The pods are dried and will flavour anything they come in contact with; the same can be said for most plants when making an infusion to extract the flavour oils from said plant (tea: boiled water over leaves being the simplest; oils and alcohols can likewise be infused, but this is best done cold to retain the preservative properties of either the oil or alcohol). You may want to also put a pod in your sugar container, as it will make vanilla sugar. If you put it in your bag of coffee beans, the same. Salt too, but that might be unusual.
If you have a tall jar (ie a well-cleaned olive, pickled onion, or cherry jar would work) which can hold the pods, put as many as will fit in the jar and fill with vodka; when making something which requires vanilla beans (ie custard or ice cream), snip the top off and squeeze the seeds out.
I'd stick to vodka for an extract (neutral flavour). Rum for drinking. I don't know about brandy, but it would probably work--you don't really want to use something that has a powerful scent on its own, as it kind of defeats the purpose.
The better the quality (and freshness) of the bean, the stronger the flavouring it will make.
I agree with Caraliens thoughts and suggestions. Make sure you cut the beans in half lengthwise so the tiny seeds inside can be in contact with the spirit. The seeds have most of the flavor, as compared to the pod which has much less and picked up most of that during the curing and drying process from the seeds within. Then after aging just filter through a coffee filter or paper towel set in a funnel.
You can make a nice vanilla infused spirit with light or golden rum, brandy, Calvados (aged apple brandy), whiskey, or any fine spirit. The better the quality of spirit you use, the LESS vanilla you should use. You just want a touch of vanilla to add to the notes of vanilla that may already be there from barrel aging. (Vanillin is present in oak and toasting or charring the barrel it brings it out even more. this is where whiskey and brandy get their vanilla flavor notes from.)
if you want to make a spiced rum start with a decent golden or aged rum. One you like a lot. Then add a tiny bit of spices, just a dash; and also dried fruit. Some to use that are in spiced rums, and in minute amounts in many rums in general are: clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, black pepper, dark raisins, prunes, dried cherries and apricots. You could also use dried pineapple, blueberries, apples, cranberries, coconut flakes, or anything else that strikes your fancy. Just start with small amounts and taste after a few weeks. Then you can adjust and let age more.
If you are making vanilla extract, the FDA requires that the extract be made with a minimum strength of 35% alcohol (70 proof) and 13.35 ounces of vanilla bean per gallon for regular strength, but you can double it or triple it. For this you would use neutral spirits like 80 proof vodka. So figure out how much you want to make, and base it on the above proportions for something similar to, but better than store bought.
Try this browned butter/vanilla-infused rum recipe for hot toddies.
I also like Eben Freeman's browned-butter-infused rum recipe, haven't tried adding vanilla...yet. But it is delicious already, I might try adding vanilla bean to the infusion this weekend.
Fat washing is a really great technique. I've played around with it a bit ever since Jim and Eben mentioned it to me a year or two ago. In those two recipes above the two of them brown the butter, it gives you a deep nutty, buttery flavor that goes great with the warm brown vanilla flavor. You can also use barely melted butter for a lighter, more popcorn buttery flavor.
(I've also started to save the clear fats from all my roasts and bacon to use for fat washing with some interesting results. Some very good, some mediocre, some nasty; but still interesting.)
maybe you might want to start a fat washing thread?
I just did this infusion: 4 oz. of rum, 4 oz. browned butter, plus scraped out the seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean, placed in a shallow bowl in the fridge for 2 days. Strained first with a cheesecloth, then again with a coffee filter (kind of messy)!
It's a little vanilla heavy, but I think it tastes pretty damn good.