Bake Club: Vanilla Extract

Has anyone else notice how expensive vanilla extract is? The price keeps rising because of how labour intensive it is to grow them and how rare they are. 80% of the worlds supply comes from Madagascar. I spend – roughly on average – $204 for twelve cups of pure vanilla extract. I think I go through about one and a half cups a year. This year is a bit more because of the pandemic but maybe it is my regular life now, who knows? But even at $25 a year – that gets expensive. It also isn’t always the best quality. My mom brought me 2L of Mexican vanilla once. It was wonderful and lasted a couple of years. Last year I went to Trader Joe’s and brought home bourbon vanilla extract, 1/2 cup for $9 usd. It was good. I mean, reeeeeaaaaalllyyyy good. I wanted that flavour on a regular basis.

So I did the research.

I watched numerous videos and read articles about making your own. I learned that the more vanilla bean you use, the faster it is ready. One gal used 1 bean per four cups and it took a year before she could use it. Ina Gartner uses 10 beans per four cups and it was read in less than 4 weeks. Regardless of quantity, the process is incredibly simple.

Next I did the research looking for vanillla bean. Sobeys rarely has any and often it is one in a glass test tube for $8. Bulk Barn didn’t have any – but they cary paste. Cool to know, but not what I am looking for. I googled a local source and found Silk Road Spice Merchant on Whyte Avenue. The original shop is in Calgary. They recently reopened here in Edmonton. There was a bit of a wait to enter the shop. The limit the number of people allowed in at one time. They have sanitized baskets, hand sanitizer at the entrance and pleanty of staff on hand to help.

THIS WAS A COOL SHOP!

It felt like an old timey apothecary. There were jars of various spices lined on shelves. You could purchase in jars or they would weigh out amounts for you an put it in a bag. All of it was cool.

I went in looking for whole nutmeg for my pumpkin pies and 10 Tahitian vanilla beans (the lesser expensive to Madagascar bean). I came away with black volcanic salt from Hawaii, and very fragrant cardamom. The smells and pungency of these spices are incredible compared to Bulk Barn. Fresh is best apparently.

The vanilla bean was the freshest I have ever experienced. They were soft and fragrant.

I cut them in half. My kitchen and I smelled like vanilla for the rest of the day and I wasn’t mad about that.

I bought the cheapest bourbon available to me. $25 for 750 ml of Jim Bean Kentucky Bourbon, I bought two. I filled three 2-cup jars with the bourbon. and divided up the twenty pieces. When it got down to the last two, I chopped them in thirds and popped them into the jars.

I have left them on my counter so I remember to shake them up about three-four times a day for a week. Then once in the pantry, they will get a shake about once every four to five days. In 4-6 weeks it should be ready to use and will last indefinitely.

Once the jar has about a quarter left, I can refill it with bourbon for one more use. That doubles the value of those beans or I can squeeze the the beans and get a paste out and stick the empty pod in to a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar. Either way, excellent value because six cups of vanilla bourbon extract cost me $99. I saved $105. Maybe I will buy myself some new cake pans, a new rolling pin and a set of circle cutters. OR I could buy new electric beaters. OR maybe just put it away for something else.

When these beauties are ready they will be dark – just like the stuff you buy from the grocery store. I will let you know how it turns out.

Stay healthy everyone!

No gifts for you

Last week I talked about the shift and how I have changed because of my meditation practice. Something else has happened too. My need or desire for things has vanished. I lived a long time wanting things or needing money so I could acquire things. Part of that was being married to someone who controlled all the money that came and went from the bank account. I never had money and I never was allowed to spend it. I was dressed pretty much in rags and my mom took pity on me. She would buy me new clothes. I had to lie about them. If he wasn’t letting me buy clothes, no one else could either. It was just a long line of experiences I went through. In my new life when I had money, I wanted to buy things I never had before. I bought jewelry I liked, not jewelry that I was told to like or should like or was even allowed to have, I bought Tiffany. Eventually, money was spent on experiences. I travelled more and bought less crap. Now I hardly buy anything. My dishwasher burst into flames in the spring and I still haven’t replaced it. It doesn’t matter to me.

My point is, I feel different. I don’t want things. I just get what I need. I was told this would happen when you practiced meditation regularly. So now I know.

I also don’t want to buy things for other people. We aren’t exchanging Christmas gifts this year. I don’t want anyone to buy me anything because this feels different.

But…

I like doing things for people and will do that as gifts. My friend’s birthday is coming up and we were chatting about their new goal of cooking more and eating out less. So they were making an effort to learn to cook. Their favourite cookie is chocolate chip, so I was inspired to build a cookie kit with my tried and true cookie recipe and mail it to them.

I filled a cookie jar with 3 bags of premeasured ingredients ( flour mixture, sugar mixture and chocolate chips) and a small container of pure vanilla. I added a whisk and small spatula in case they didn’t have one. All they needed was a cookie sheet, butter and eggs.

From the photos they sent, it seems they turned out great. They had never made cookies from scratch and it was so much easier than they thought it would be. Now I think they will bake more often. Since I shared my recipe with them, I thought I would share it with you because Sharing is Caring.

This is a variation of the Nestle Toll House Cookie. I changed it to reflect the texture I like. It took me a year of experimenting with the ingredients but I settled on this one. It is my son’s favourite cookie of all time. Baking for him makes me happy. Mostly because he walks into the kitchen, sees the cookies and says “oooooooooooooooh” and immediately steals cookie dough and a baked cookie.

Edmonton Tourist’s Chocolate Chip Cookie

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature and salted, not that unsalted stuff. The flavour of the salt contrasts with the sweet and makes it AMAZING
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar – dark brown gives a deeper flavour but light brown will work!
  • 1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons of PURE vanilla extract ( the Barefoot Contessa is correct –  use the good stuff. The best you can buy or make your own using vodka and vanilla bean.)
  • large eggs
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet but go to town on your favourite – broken chocolate bars are great too)

PREHEAT oven to 375° F.

Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Sift or whisk together flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl ( I sift over the sugar mixture and only use one bowl) beat in flour mixture. Stir in chocolate. Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets.

(I use a cookie scoop that measures 1 tablespoon and parchment paper.)

BAKE 375° F a for 9 to 11 minutes (9 minutes for a soft chewie cookie, 11 minutes for a crisper texture I always bake for 9 minutes). Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes ( this is important! Leave the cookie too long on the hot sheet and it overcooks); remove to wire racks to cool completely.
Pro-Tip: Freeze dough in tablespoon portions and bake one or two for freshly baked cookies whenever you want them. My kids eat the cookie dough before they get into the oven so this is a wasted step for me. I will freeze baked cookies but they also go missing when I look for them.

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These don’t double well but they go great with milk. Best gift ever.