I use vanilla essence in virtually all my cakes. And almost every time, Marius asks me why do I use this stuff.
"- What do you mean? For flavor of course. This is what I've learned from my mother."
"- No, I mean why don't you make your own homemade vanilla extract? The bottle has anything but vanilla and the recipe is really simple."
Indeed, there was sugar, caramel, artificial vanillin synthesised from wood byproducts and other flavors. Hmm, no traces of vanilla.
It's like we don't eat real stuff anymore, just like in Soylent Green. Boy, detective Thorn and Sol were really glad to put their hand on a soap bar and a real orange.
The future is not here yet, so I decided to buy the ingredients to make my own real natural vanilla essence, not the chemical warfare stuff I was using.
I paid almost $5 on two vanilla pods. It seemed huge compared to the many bottles of grocery store essence I could buy with this money. But hey, at least I got what I was paid for.
One more argument that won me over was these pods were essentially supposed to last a lifetime. Talk about guarantees. I don't think that remains true for too long if you are a pastry chef :)
The recipe is trivial and contains only two ingredients compared to the fake stuff:
I had 96 degrees alcohol. I used 4 oz alcohol and 4 oz water to make 48 degrees alcohol.
Cut the pods in half lengthwise. I had 2 pods, that's 4 halves. Be carrefull because the pods are thin and greassy and you can cut yourself.
Put the halves in the bottle and cover them with alcohol.
Then wait for at least 2-3 months... If you let it for 6 months it will be a great essence.
I knew that I'll have to wait 2 months when I started this recipe. It's seems even huge when you prepare to celebrate your child's birthday the next week.
However, I managed to master my curiosity for 4 months. Basicly I forgot about it :)
I was glad that my essence began to color from the very first hours.
I had seen essences on the internet which had reached almost a matte color and I was a little disappointed that mine was more transparent than a tea.
I guess the intensity of the color and the flavor is directly proportional to the number of vanilla pods you use. So I would recommend using 3-4 pods for a stronger color and flavor.
I wanted to use my vanilla extract and the fake vanilla in two cakes. I don't usually make two cakes or two creme brulees so I made ice cream.
I went scientific and I split the homemade ice cream in 3 containers:
The first two had definitely more flavor than the simple sample. However, the most flavorful and tastier between the first two, even if I was subjective, was the homemade vanilla extract.
The final test will be to have a friend participating in a blind trial. I will serve her the two samples and ask her which she prefers. I have no doubt she would choose the real stuff every time.
In the ice cream experiment I tested the whole essence, including the alcohol. The ratio is one teaspoon in 1 kilogram of composition.
In baked cakes, the alcohol will evaporate.
Personally, I don't worry too much when my daughter eats one or two pieces of chocolate filled with rum.