Okay, quick question on the vanilla making front...I guess I've led a pretty sheltered life cause I've never seen a vanilla bean before. I was thinking they would be the normal "bean" size (you know, kidney, lima, etc.). Anyway, I just got my beans from Penzey's to make the vanilla and they are 4-6 inches long! Is this normal??? Do I use 2 of the LONG beans to add to the vodka?? I'm not supposed to cut them up, am I?
Sorry for the silly questions, but I've never seen a vanilla bean before!!!
I don't know a lot about vanilla beans either but I can tell you that my beans were about 6 inches long. I used 2 bean in 1 pint of vodka. I cut the beans in half and split them down the middle. I posted the results in the "vanilla making status" thread. Let me know how it goes.
I think the original vanilla thread had a lengthy explanation of vanilla beans that was taken from the "dictionary" at www.epicurious.com
For immediacy, though, I'll use the often-referenced copy & paste tricks to paraphrase what they've got.
This long, thin pod is the fruit of a luminous celadon-colored orchid (vanilla planifolia ), which, of over 20,000 orchid varieties, is the only one that bears anything edible.
Because of the extremely labor-intensive, time-consuming process by which it's obtained, pure vanilla is still relatively expensive today. The saga begins with the orchid blossoms, which open only one day a year (and then only for a few hours). Because this particular orchid has only one natural pollinator (the Melipona bee), which cannot possibly handle the task in such a small period of time, the flower must be hand-pollinated — otherwise, no vanilla bean. After pollination, pods take 6 weeks to reach full size (6 to 10 inches long), and 8 to 9 months after that to mature. The mature pods, which must be hand-picked, are green and have none of the familiar vanilla flavor or fragrance. For that they need curing, a 3- to 6-month process that begins with a 20-second boiling-water bath followed by sun heating. Once the beans are hot, they're wrapped in blankets and allowed to sweat. Over a period of months of drying in the sun by day and sweating in blankets at night, the beans ferment, shrinking by 400 percent and turning their characteristic dark brown.
To meet FDA standards, pure vanilla extract must contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon during extraction and 35 percent alcohol.
Vanilla beans should be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, placed in an airtight jar and refrigerated. They can be stored in this manner for about 6 months.
To use vanilla beans, slit them lengthwise down the center and scrape out the thousands of diminutive seeds. These seeds can be added directly to foods such as ice-cream mixtures, shortening to be used for pastry dough, sauces, etc. Homemade vanilla extract can be made by placing a split bean in a jar containing 3/4 cup vodka, sealing and letting it stand for 6 months.
Hope this helps. I know it's long, but Epicurious' description is considerably longer!
In case it's not too late to answer your question, I take 2 vanilla beans and split them lengthwise. I drop the beans right into the bottle of alcohol (vodka or rum).
To replenish the bottle...either add more alcohol or another bean...or both!
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