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September 6, 2004 12:42 PM   Subscribe

[BakingFilter] What's the best vanilla extract in your opinion, and why? No artificial vanillas need apply, and we already use vanilla beans, so no need to suggest that either. Uses will include baking and homemade ice cream.
posted by biscotti to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
Penzey's single or double strength Vanilla Extract. Best all-round flavor in my opinion.
posted by anathema at 12:47 PM on September 6, 2004

Cook's Illustrated picked Nielsen-Massey's Madagascar Bourbon a few years ago but then came to the conclusion that their panel of testers couldn't tell the difference in many baked goods (they noted vanilla custards and shortbread cookies).

Side note: I know the original posted wasn't interested in vanilla beans, but I'm curious if anyone has good (online, delivery in the US) sources for them. I've only found them at extraordinarily high prices, although I haven't searched too far/wide yet.
posted by bcwinters at 1:23 PM on September 6, 2004

Vanilla beans steeped in vodka make for a perfectly good homemade vanilla extract, if you're interested. Takes a few weeks to get to something that is usable in baking.

The last time CI revisited the vanilla situation (which was fairly recently), they said just buy the cheap stuff, and even went so far as to say that in some applications the artificial stuff was better.
posted by briank at 2:04 PM on September 6, 2004

Yeah, homemade is best. You have the extract, and then you can use the beans for ice creams and such. My mom, who makes enough to give as Christmas gifts, says use a very good vodka. Spend a little and you'll get a better flavor. Here's a recipe I found for you:

2 vanilla beans
1 bottle (750ml) vodka

Rub vanilla beans with the dull edge of a knife to evenly distribute the seeds, then cut the beans in half lengthwise. Place in bottle of vodka.

Seal the bottle, and set in a cool dark place for 4 to 6 months, shaking occasionally, until the flavor of the extract has mellowed. The clear vodka will turn a nice deep brown. When the extract is ready to be used, clean and sterilize several small bottle with screw-on lids, and fill with homemade extract. Add a label, tie on a ribbon, and you'll have a beautiful little gift to give.
posted by FunkyHelix at 2:24 PM on September 6, 2004

As far as storebought brands go, Spice Islands produces a really high-quality bourbon vanilla extract, but it is accompanied by an exorbitant price tag and I only pick it up when on sale. That said, it is so much better than your run o' the mill McCormick's extract that the price is nearly justifiable.

Homemade sounds like an interesting proposition, though. I guess I'll wait for an answer to bcwinters' question.
posted by Danelope at 3:31 PM on September 6, 2004

I'm not sure what constitutes extraordinarily high prices, but I buy mine from The Spice House. They have a couple of different options for beans at different price points.

When buying vanilla extract, I like the Double Strength because my mother is allergic to alcohol and even the little bit of vanilla that goes in the average cake recipe is enough for her to notice, I can halve the alcohol by using the double strength vanilla flavour.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:54 PM on September 6, 2004

I second the Penzey's. Their cinnamon is a notch above the rest IMO.
posted by jeremias at 4:26 PM on September 6, 2004

If the alcohol in vanilla extract is causing problems, try going with something like King Arthur Flour's 16-fold Vanilla Powder, a highly-concentrated vanilla powder.

As for extract, I also use the Nielsen-Massey Madagascar vanilla, but I got a good deal on a big bottle of it some time back. Next time I may go with Penzey's, because I believe the CI tasters when they say they can't tell the difference. I'll still avoid supermarket verisons because I just have no idea how long they've been warehoused.
posted by mdeatherage at 4:29 PM on September 6, 2004

I love Rodelle vanilla extract, which is made here in Colorado by Custom Blending. I don't know if they do mail orders though.

It has a really clean vanilla taste. McCormick's, etc all have that weird chemical-sugar taste to me.
posted by littlegirlblue at 6:34 PM on September 6, 2004

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