Gift Guide on the Solstice

December 21, 2012

If you really want to impress a good cook, give them the best vanilla beans you can buy.  Great vanilla bears no resemblance to the dark, sad, shriveled little pods you find in most supermarkets. The finest vanilla beans I’ve ever met were the organic pods sourced by Le Sanctuaire, which startled me with the intensity of their fragrance. They’re long – about half a foot – soft, and a deep mahogany brown, and when you split them open you find a profusion of plump little seeds nestled into a thick paste.  They make everything they touch more complex and interesting.

It’s late to order by mail at this point, but many good spice emporiums sell excellent vanilla beans. What you’re looking for are deep brown, well-padded, pliable pods with a strong, fragrance. 

For a really great gift throw in this recipe for homemade vanilla extract, a small bottle of liquor and a tall pretty glass bottle with a stopper.  Your friends can use a few pods to make their own extract; they’ll think of you every time they use it.

Vanilla Extract Recipe

3 excellent vanilla beans

1 cup vodka, bourbon or brandy (vodka will produce a neutral extract; other liquors will contribute their own complexity of flavor)

Keeping the beans whole, slit each one down its length with a small, sharp knife. Put the beans into a small jar and pour in the liquor so that they are completely submerged.  Close tightly and store in a cool, dark place for a month or two, rotating every week or so.

The extract will keep for at least a year, becoming more intense over time.  Add more liquor as needed, to keep the beans covered. 


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