Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Aromatics: Cinnamon, Vanilla, Star Anise and Cloves

Aromatics are named for their potent aroma.  Most of the time when cooks use the term, they are referring to the savory blend of carrots, celery and onion.  This is the base of flavor for soups and sauces.  But, aromatics aren't limited to just the basic trio of pantry staples.

These aromatics, vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, star anise and cloves are full of flavor and aroma.  When I set out this dish to take the photo, I can't tell you how wonderful it smelled!  Oh, the scents were a lovely perfume of all delicious food memories, both sweet and savory.

We all know that these flavors are also considered spices and used in baking and cooking. But, did you know that because of their powerful strength, there is so much you can do with them?
One of my favorite things to do is to use their aroma to INFUSE various things....

Basically, you set your aromatic inside a clean jar and then add the substance you wish to absorb that flavor.    It is a lot like brewing tea, but without the water!
Infusing Tea Bags with Vanilla Bean
Infusing Tea Bags with an Aromatic: I reused a glass jar (as the aromatic will also permeate plastic containers) and placed some tea bags inside.  Then, I cut some vanilla beans in half and placed them in the jar.  Seal the jar and wait at least 2 weeks for the tea bags to take on a lovely vanilla flavor.  When ready, brew the tea as you normally would, except it will take on a vanilla scent!
Infusing Sugar with Vanilla Beans
Infusing Sugar with an Aromatic: I placed vanilla beans inside a clean glass jar and then filled it with sugar.  Cover and let sit for a month, shaking occasionally.  Use in hot drinks, cold drinks, sprinkled on toast, oatmeal or as a topping on cookies or scones.
Homemade Vanilla Extract or Vanilla Bean Infused Vodka
Homemade Vanilla Extract - Split vanilla beans down the middle and place in a tall, clean bottle.  Fill with vodka or bourbon, cover tightly and let sit for 4 months.  Shake jar occasionally.  The alcohol will take on the rich dark color as it ages.  The vanilla flavor will get stronger the longer it sits.  To refresh the homemade vanilla extract, simply add more alcohol when the bottle gets low.  Add an additional bean and let sit again for a few months.  The bottle on the left was a gift. The vanilla is inside a green bottle, so it looks light colored, but you can see the precious vanilla beans floating inside!

Infusing aromatics is easy.  The key is to have clean jars, lovely scented spices or dried herbs and time.  You can infuse any of the above ingredients in sugar, tea bags or alcohol.  I also want to try infusing lavender at some point!

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