Licking my baking wounds

‘I feeeeeeel good’ with homemade vanilla essence.

So it’s back to work (groan) after a baking mad break and with its many disasters, trials and tribulation.  I can safely say it is better to be at work and no I will not be givng up the day job anytime soon. The holidays have been accompanied by sessions of continual baking failures resulting in a melt down in this order:

1. full body shaking – the type that causes me to look like I am having a fit
2. hypervenitlating punctuated by stifled sobs and snorts whilst trying to explain what was wrong
3. Followed by this conversation:

‘it’ big snort, sobbing noises

‘went’ snivel, wailing and sniffing

‘wrrronnngggggggg’ followed by banshee wailing

4. Ending with a red blotchy face that looked like I fell into a field of nettles

This major sobbing session was over a trio of baking that cracked, exploded and sunk over four days (rule of 3). When my self pity reached its full height instead of coming to my aid and comfort; my son put on his life jacket whilst smirking and continued to play the Wii.  My husband stood holding the front door saying ‘Just letting the tidal wave of tears out the door dear otherwise I was going to get my windsurf board out’.  I have to say that was a rather surreal moment and if I had not been so self abosrbed I may have cracked a smile, well maybe.  Naturally I didn’t smile to keep true to the tormented, distressed, hormonal women’s law.

Self Soothing
To succesfully self-manage this hormonal ourburst I promptly returned to bed, sulked for an hour and punishing myself by looking at baking pictures on pintrest.This is what I do, I mean when I was dieting I always used to sit down with a chocolate bar to comfort myself whilst reading a diet magazine.  After half an hour of being in bed I grumbled under my breath at all you wonderful bakers out there as I was now staring at the images on foodgawker and screaming out ‘ it should be me!’ after my third photo submission to them that day had also failed.  If there was an oscar to be won for full on self pity I would win it hands down unless I was up against a baking footballer or my son ( I wonder where he got that from?)

Like Sugar and Spice
I wouldn’t mind baking disasters so much but the price for quality vanilla essence is astronomical and all these bin endings are costing me a fortune. I hate both waste and failure equally and If I dwell on this any longer I will only end up diving back under the ‘it’s going to be alright’ duvet that I just got out of.

I make my own vanilla sugar but once I topped snivelling and washed my face I decided to lick my baking wounds and in a true knee jerk ‘my baking failed and someone is going to get it’ fashion (other than my family – remember the new years pledge).  I decided the best thing to do is to stick two fingers truly up to the vanilla essence manufacturers and make my own and I tell you what it feels good (cue James Brown click and listen as you read – just for you @bakingbeats ). This is a gift to myself so I won’t feel so crappy when my bakes fail and at least this way the failure will be cheaper , taste good and be accompanied by deep satisfaction of not buying the required brown bottle when I next go to the Supermarket. Now I feel good (yeh), I knew that I would. I feel nice, like sugar and spice, so good , so nice, as I got you.  DIY vanilla essence, yehhhh!

Homemade Vanilla Essence (When I hold you in my baking cupboard, I know I can do no baking wrong)

Homemade Vanilla Essence
A great gift to you or a baking friend – why not make a few at the same time.

Ingredients (here comes the normal bit)

Vanilla pods – it is much cheaper to buy your vanilla pods from a a reputable company online. I used this one and I could get into the whole lengthy discussion as to which pods are best but I am not going to as lfe is too short do your own reading but here is a link to explain the different types I personally went with Madagascan ( because I like the movie). Not only do the pods you buy like this have far more flavour but are also far cheaper than ones you will find in most supermarkets where you normally pay over the odds for a manky half-dried dead looking that looks like something the cat sicked up. The ones I ordered are plump, fragrant and succulent pods that when stored in my baking cupboard slap me across the face with a vanilla fragrance – oh yes they totally do it for me.

Bottles – you can buy preserving bottles from stores but you can also recycle an old bottle such as a sauce or juice bottle; mine are olive oil and pizza express dressing bottles -upcycing is the new recycling I have you know. The bottles will need to be sterilised before use – see here for how to do this. I did mine in the dishwasher and got them out when it was on the drying cycle.

Vodka – don’t worry about the make it simply does not change the taste at the end I used Sainsburys basics. As long as it it over 30% proof (volume of alcohol in the bottle not the bloodstream) you will be fine. You can also make this with rum – see what you have left in your cupboard.


Tip: Make sure you know the size of your bottle before you start – if not fill it with water and then pour the water into a measuring jug to find out. I am sure you knew but I didn’t so I wanted to remind myself.

1. Fill each sterilised bottle with vodka (not quite to the top)
2. For every 180 ml of Vodka you will need 2 Vanilla Pods
3. Slice the pods in half with a sharp knife
4. Place pods in the bottle
5. Put lid on – put in a dark cupboard for 6-8 weeks. Turn the bottle upside down 3 times (rather than a vigorous shake) once a week.
6. Use – that is how simple it is

Vanilla Beans

Vanilla Beans

You will see sediments in the essence – this is just vanilla bean particles. These are the bits you normally scrape out to use so do not be afraid of them they taste amazing so resist the bakers temptation to remove any dodgy brown bits as these ones are good.

Freshly made Vanilla Essence the colour will change over the weeks

To refil

When your bottle gets to 1/3 remaining top up with vodka. Continue to turn the bottle once per week. You will not have to wait the 6-8 weeks to use it, just a day or so as you are refreshing it so the trick is to never let your vanilla essence supply run dry else you have to pay the pimps prices in the supermarket. After the 6-8 weeks display your bottle in the kitchen as this will help remind you to put in used beans as they still have a lot of flavour to give and when to refil.

Add more beans to refresh every 6 months or so (or more if you use lots of it) when the colour starts to fade. You can also put your used vanilla pods in here (as well as to make vanilla suage – another highly expensive item you can easily make) so they can carry on giving back to your baking. No waste, no nasty chemicals, cheap and environmentally friendly, fantastic and the taste is packed full of vanilla punch.

Make your first batch of cakes with it as per the recipe instructions to test it ( as flavour strength will naturally vary according to different beans adn howlong they have been soaked) and adapt the amount if needed in future if you find the vanilla flavour too weak or strong.

Happy making and stick up whatever gesture you like at the manufacturers and lick your own baking wounds x

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