Tuesday, December 1, 2009

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Rowley’s Gift Guide for Drinkers: Homemade Vanilla Syrup

In twenty years of cooking my own meals, I have made some flat-out amazing dishes. So far, none has been as delicious as my own homemade vanilla syrup.

If you are inclined to make your Christmas presents, here’s one that drinkers on your gift list should get some miles out of. It’s an integral component to the tropical Nui Nui, lends an ethereal air to a Ramos gin fizz, and in small doses lends a velvet softness to whipped cream for topping Kahlua-spiked hot chocolate.

There are two primary ways of making the syrup at home. One uses high-quality vanilla extract. The other—the one that I feel gives superior results—uses actual vanilla pods. We will take a look at both. First, a quick-and-dirty version that starts with a sugar syrup that I tend to keep around in large quantities.

Quick & Dirty Vanilla Syrup

1 cup 2:1 simple syrup*
1 tsp vanilla extract

Stir the vanilla extract into the syrup and bottle. And Bob’s your uncle: It is now ready for use.

Note: use a high-end vanilla extract or don’t bother making your own syrup. Reputable brands include Penzey’s and Nielsen-Massey Vanillas. I use the heady Mexican brand Orlando Gaya Hijos from Veracruz.

Now, here’s the recipe I use when I don’t need a bunch of syrup immediately. As in Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream, tiny black seeds are shot throughout.

Rich Vanilla Syrup

2 cups sugar
1 cup filtered water
5 vanilla pods

Pour the sugar and water into a small, heavy saucepan. Slice each vanilla pod along its length and open like a book. Scrape as many of the tiny black seeds as possible into the pot. Using kitchen shears, snip each pod into 1” lengths. Add these to the pot and bring all to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer, beat gently with a long-handled whisk to release even more seeds from the pods and allow the syrup to simmer about two minutes. Let the syrup cool in the pan. Strain the larger pieces of vanilla pods and set aside, but leave in all the small black seeds in the syrup. Bottle and refrigerate.

Air-dry the pods and toss them into a bin of sugar to infuse it with the aroma of vanilla. Next time you make Rich Vanilla Syrup, use this vanilla-scented sugar.

* Using the term “simple syrup” is enough to raise voices among some bartenders and cocktail aficionados. “Simple” in this instance does not refer to a perfect one-to-one ratio of sugar to water. It means simply that the syrup contains no ingredients other than sugar and water. Bartenders had no special claim on the term which has, in fact, been used by pastry chefs, soda jerks, confectioners, and home cooks for a very long time. Each of these has different ideas about the correct proportion of sugar to water in “simple” syrup. Increasingly, you may hear of “rich” syrup when proportion of sugar is higher than that of water. This 2:1 rich syrup is the one we use almost exclusively at home. It’s just so simple.

The easiest way to make rich syrup is to add two parts sugar to one part water in a saucepan, heat only until the sugar dissolves, then cool and bottle. Store under refrigeration.

See the gift guide as it grows here.


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