Wanna make your own vanilla extract? I have good news for you. Homemade vanilla extract is less expensive than its commercial counterpart. It’s dang delicious, too, and its flavor continually improves over time. Pure vanilla extract is really easy to make, and it makes a terrific holiday gift!
Vanilla Beans — What kind and how many?
Pure vanilla extract contains just two ingredients: Vanilla beans and neutral-tasting alcohol. Vanilla beans from the supermarket are pricey indeed. I paid $14.00 for just one Morton and Bassett-bottled bean. Talk about sticker-shock!
For the best prices, obtain beans in bulk from online sources and local health food stores. Look for “Grade B” Madagascar or Tahitian beans — both are excellent for extract. I found Tahitian beans at my local food co-op for just $4.80 each.
How many beans to use? Plan 5 beans per 8-ounce cup of alcohol.
For the purpose of extracting all the vanilla goodness from the beans, the alcohol component must be 80-proof (i.e., 40-percent alcohol by volume). Vodka is the gold standard here, and there’s no need to splurge on the top shelf stuff. In fact, the cheapest vodka is often the best vodka for extract.
Containers for Holding the Extract
Any bottle or jar with an air-tight lid will suffice for the extraction process. I found lots of pretty bottles at Amazon. The flip-lid beauties pictured above (click here to buy) hold 8.5 ounces. Avoid bottles with cork tops, as cork can encourage evaporation. Whatever containers you select, wash and dry them thoroughly before use.
Making the Extract
First, grab your vanilla beans…
And slice them lengthwise to reveal the flavorful seeds inside.
Put 5 of the split pods in an 8 or 8.5 ounce bottle (increase or decrease the number of pods depending on the container you are using). If the pods are taller than your jar or bottle, just cut the pods in half or in pieces.
Now measure out the alcohol, which, again, is one cup (8 ounces) for each 5 vanilla beans.
Put a funnel in the top of the bottle, and pour on the vodka!
And that’s it! Give the bottle or jar a shake, and then set it in a dark place. My dark place is behind the closed doors of a kitchen cabinet.
Let the Extract Mature
In order for the extract to develop a deep, complex taste and aroma, the beans must macerate in their vodka bath for at least 3 months. Thereafter, you can use the extract freely in cakes, cookies, and more. And here’s the best part: You can — and should — top-off the extract with more vodka after each use to insure the beans are completely submerged. Full maturity is attained at 12 months, at which time you can remove the beans and strain the extract. Pure vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life.
I’ll update this post in 3 months time, when my own extract is ready to sample. Meanwhile, I hope you’ll give this fun project a try. As mentioned earlier, homemade vanilla extract makes an excellent holiday gift for bakers. From the 4 bottles I put up today, one will be gifted to my friend David Leite, of Leite’s Culinaria. Another bottle will fall into the hands of Brenda Johnson, my ever lovin’ taste-tester. The remaining 2 bottles are mine, all mine.
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