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Vanilla Extract in Italy

Asked by beba1976. Answered on 27th February 2012

Full question

Dear Nigella, first of all congratulations for your books! I am Italian and have some of your books in Italian and also in English. I like the way you talk the reader through your recipes and I have tried some of them and always had great success with family & friends! However in Italy it is not possible to buy the vanilla extract that you usually use in your recipes; you can only find the chemical vanilla powder (called "VANILLINA") but it is really unhealthy and "depressing" to use! You can find vanilla pods but they are quite expensive that's why I'd like to know if you can suggest anywhere where I can buy a bottle of vanilla extract? Thank you very much and all the best from Italy! Debora

Our answer

Most bakers prefer to use a natural vanilla extract and there are several British companies that sell vanilla extract on-line (usually Dr Oetker or Nielsen-Massey brands) and will ship to Italy. We have given some links below as examples and you should find other suppliers on-line. It is also worth checking for vanilla extract on Amazon.

Although vanilla pods (vanilla beans) are expensive you can make them last longer by making your own vanilla sugar or vanilla extract. Split 3 vanilla pods lengthways and put them in a large jar then add 500g caster sugar (2 1/2 cups superfine sugar). Seal and leave in a cool, dry, dark place for a month then shake the jar and use the sugar in your baking recipes and top the sugar up each time that you use it. The sugar will be perfumed by the vanilla pods and the vanilla pods should last for a couple of years (or longer, depending on how frequently you use the sugar and the storage conditions).

For vanilla extract split 3 vanilla pods and put them in a clean jar then add 250ml (1 cup) vodka. Seal and leave in a cool, dark place for 2 months, giving the jar the occasional shake. The vodka will turn brown as the vanilla infuses into it. You can use this home-made vanilla extract in the same quantity as a store-bought one and the jar can be topped up with 125ml (1/2 cup) vodka once half of the home-made extract has been used (let it infuse again for a couple of weeks before using). You can add a little sugar to the extract if you like (as most commercial brands are slightly sweetened) though for most baking recipes this is unlikely to be necessary. However do be careful about using this extract for anyone who is not allowed to consume alcohol.

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