There’s been a vacuum sealed pack of vanilla beans that I brought home from Madagascar this summer that I’ve been dying to rip open and use since then, wanting to save it for “something special” I guess. Well, I was bored and avoiding my studies yet again this past weekend, so naturally I finally gave into temptation (and since there was really not much else I could play with in my cupboard minus a few cobwebs). With the bottle of vodka (yech!) that’s been hangin’ out with my scant wine collection on the counter, I finally got to making my own vanilla extract. Super easy. 3 beans per cup of vodka and that’s all you need to get some going… plus the whole time factor of course, which is something like 2 months for the flavors to develop. I had 10 beans, so I did one small bottle and one big bottle of extract (doubling the ratio to 6 beans for 2 cups), leaving me with one lone vanilla bean left that I could experiment with… hehe. What sort of kitchen tests was I gonna subject this little guy to?
Well, I’ve been caked and cookied out, so those options were out of the question. Also, I’ve wanted to try poaching fruit in forever, and I did happen to have two lovely Bartlett pears chillin’ out on the kitchen counter. How perfect! I decided on vanilla-poached pears, which is simple, easy, and not to mention hella elegant (can I even use “hella” with “elegant?”) when served. Most recipes out there call for using 4 or more pears, so I just cut measurements in half, except for the vanilla bean part, since I wanted to really experience the intensity of flavor it would bring to the dish (and make the house smell quite wonderful afterwards). Daaaaaaammn it was divine! I even saved some of the vanilla bean syrup to use to flavor my coffee in the mornings. Here’s the recipe for them yummy pears, along with a note on how to make your own vanilla extract!
Vanilla Poached Pears for Two
• 2 ripe pears (I used Bartlett, but I think Bosc would work better)
• 2 cups water
• 1 cup granulated sugar
• 3 (1 by 3 inch) strips of lemon zest
• 1 vanilla bean
• a dash of ground cloves for some spice (optional)
(1) First, dismember your vanilla bean– take a paring knife to split it lengthwise, scraping out the seeds and reserving the pod. In a small or medium saucepan, combine these fragrant reserves with the water, sugar, lemon zest, and the cloves if using them, bringing everything to a boil under high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar completely dissolves.
(2) In the meantime, prepare your pears. Leaving the stem intact, peel them and slice the bottom 1/8 inch off to create a flat, stable bottom so that they can stand upright.
(3) Reduce the heat of the sugar-water mixture to a simmer, then add the pears, laying them on all sides so that they are almost entirely submerged. Cook the pears, turning them around occasionally to saturate on all sides, until they are soft and tender when pierced with a fork… about 15 minutes should do the trick.
(4) Discard the vanilla bean pod and lemon strips, and allow the pears to cool a bit in their poaching liquid. Next, remove them onto a dish and pour the vanilla liquid into a container to cool separately until they can both be stored in the fridge. Or, if you are serving immediately, then just plate the pears separately, spooning some the syrup on top until it cascades into a little pool of vanilla goodness surrounding the pear underneath. They are delicious on their own or with a scoop of ice cream on the side. Enjoy!
**How to Make Vanilla Extract…
As for making your own extract, all you need to do is split three vanilla beans in half (no need to scrape anything out), throw them in a small glass jar, and pour 8oz. of vodka over them (3 beans per 8oz, so if you have a larger jar like the one below then double these). Seal the jar completely and store in a dry, cool place, giving the jar an occasional shake from time to time. The extract should be ready to use after about two months. I’m still waiting for mine (and maybe drinking the rest of the liquor in the meantime)!