Archive for November, 2011

Vanilla Brandy

I make pecan pies a few times a year, and everyone raves about them. I use the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe Cookbook, only I increase the quantities to fit my 10-inch pie pans. My big (and only) secret? I use brandy instead of vanilla. It’s delicious.

A couple of days ago, John and I were talking about the recipe, and he asked why I don’t use both vanilla and brandy. Coincidentally, my friend Wendy had given me a copy of Mary Janes Farm Magazine, and darned if there wasn’t a recipe in it for making your own vanilla. You just stick vanilla beans in liquor. One of the recommended liquors was brandy, and I immediately thought, “Aha! I’ll make vanilla brandy and use it in my pecan pies this year!” I’ll sample it first to make sure it’s tasty, of course. 🙂

Vanilla Brandy
1 cup brandy
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise

Place the vanilla beans in a half-pint jar. Pour in the brandy and screw the lid on tightly. Shake daily until ready to use. Mary Janes recommends letting it go for a month, but I’m sure I’ll use it in a few weeks for Thanksgiving!

I love the idea of making my own infused liqueurs. I think they would make great gifts. I’ve made limoncello, and my aunt and uncle make delicious cherry liqueur using brandy, which they call “Cherry Wizniak.” I’d love to hear any family recipes or suggestions you might have!

Holiday Baking Prep

I do a lot of baking around the holidays, for a few reasons:

1. I don’t like to participate in the consumer culture surrounding Christmas.
2. I like to give people gifts they can use up and enjoy.
3. I like cooking, eating, and sharing tasty baked goods.

I do give Christmas presents to all of my family and also several close friends, and I need to plan ahead to get everything accomplished without driving myself insane. Here’s my current “do ahead” list to prepare for my holiday baking frenzy:

1. Make homemade pumpkin puree from our giant garden pumpkin to use in pies.
2. Make homemade candied lemon and orange peels. The ones I can find in the stores are heavily preserved, which I don’t like.
3. Start checking prices on butter during my regular grocery shopping trips, and stock up when the brands I like get below $2.50 per pound. These all go straight into the freezer.
4. Toast and skin hazelnuts to use in biscotti. These will get stored in the freezer.
5. Check all my spices and staples, and stock up as needed so I can avoid the stores during big holiday rushes.
6. Start thinking about how to package my baked goods this year. I tend to stick within my kraft paper/twine/homemade tags œuvre, but some type of more airtight wrapping is required to keep things fresh. I’m thinking about ordering a big roll of food-grade cellophane this year.
7. Do a few test cases – a pumpkin pie to test how the homemade puree cooks up, mini versions of my two standard biscotti recipes, maybe a new sugar cookie recipe (I seem to try a new one every year, but I just can’t find one that I really like).

I’m sure more things will be added to that list, but I’ll start working on these things a bit at a time. Hopefully, by the time the big Christmas gift baking session rolls around, I’ll be totally prepared!