Makes 1 dozen
Early in my training, I developed a preference for the exotic flavor and aroma of vanilla beans. As good as vanilla extract can be, whenever possible I use vanilla beans. Plumping the beans in rum softens the inner seeds into a kind of pulp that is more pleasant to eat than crunchy seeds from an unsoaked bean. With a simple squeeze you can totally empty the bean and remove every last seed in seconds. There are times in the book when I really prefer plumped beans (stopping just short of insisting on them), but there are also recipes where I give an option for vanilla extract. Allow at least 2 weeks for the beans to plump in the rum.
Baker's Note: Look for a reliable source of vanilla beans and compare prices. Vanilla beans are never inexpensive, but if you buy them in bulk, the price will become more reasonable.
This recipe uses 12 vanilla beans. However, you can soak up to 3 dozen beans in the same amount of rum. The beans will last for up to 6 months in the rum, after which time they may get too soft.
You can substitute an equal amount of unsoaked vanilla bean for the plumped bean. Just split the bean in half lengthwise, and use the tip of a small sharp knife to scrape out the seeds. If directed to do so, add the emptied bean to infuse into the liquid in the recipe.
In some cases, 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract can be substituted for 1 vanilla bean. Vanilla extract has an alcohol base, and exposure to heat evaporates the alcohol and dissipates the flavor. (See page 7 of the book for more information on vanilla beans and extract.)
Either dark or golden rum will do for soaking the vanilla beans. You must use liquor because the alcohol has a dual role as a preservative and flavor fixative. The rum will absorb some vanilla flavor, but it won't be nearly as strong as vanilla extract. Nonetheless, you can add it to whipped cream, pastry cream, apple desserts, or other recipes where rum and/or vanilla are common flavorings.
If you wish, turn the spent vanilla beans into Vanilla Dust (below). Use the dust whenever you want a boost of vanilla flavor and aroma.
1. Cut 1/8 inch off the bottom end of each vanilla bean. Stand the beans, cut ends down, in a large glass jar that is at least 12 inches tall. Pour in 2 inches of rum. Cover the jar and let stand until the beans are softened, at least 2 weeks. There is no need to turn the vanilla beans—just let them be.
2. To use a bean, remove one from the jar. Hold the cut end of the bean over the bowl containing the mixture that you want to flavor. Starting at the unsnipped end of the bean, squeeze down the length of the bean to extrude the pulp. (This will remind you of squeezing the last bit of toothpaste from its tube.) If using the bean, split it lengthwise to release more flavor. When a recipe calls for less than a whole bean, return the unused part to the jar.
Vanilla Dust: Use this powder by the pinch in any recipe for an extra hint of vanilla. Start with emptied vanilla beans that have not been cooked in custards, sauces, or preserves. Stand the used vanilla beans in an open jar and leave until they are as dry as twigs and snap when bent; at least a week. Break into 1-inch pieces and pulverize in a clean coffee grinder until powdery. Store in a small airtight jar.
This page created December 2010
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