Vanilla extract — the one kitchen essential that none of us should EVER be without; you can’t swing a kitchen towel without hitting a dessert recipe that calls for it, and rightfully so – real vanilla extract is an amazing ingredient!

Given the price of vanilla extract in the store, I’d always thought that it must be extremely difficult to make. I pictured Oompa Loompa-like workers with sweat on their brows, toiling in a secret cellar in some far-off exotic land, quietly chanting ancestral hymns, following techniques handed down from generation to generation, blessing the final product before it’s carted away for destinations unknown…all so that you and I could enjoy this exotic, aromatic elixir….

But hold the phone! In fact, vanilla extract is very easy to make; the hardest parts are buying the beans and waiting. So, today’s adventure is going to take us to the wonderful world of vanilla extract – our OWN vanilla extract. I know that buying it in the store is quick and painless, but there’s just something about lifting the veil on the mystery of making it…it’s more creative…and not to mention, you get bragging rights – “Really? You BUY your vanilla? Hm…I make my own.” Yes, making my own vanilla extract went straight to my head and made me a “vanilla snob,” but there are worse kinds of snobs to be ;-) So, let’s get started!

First, you need beans. Don’t spend goo-gobs of money on beans for extract; Grade B beans are ideal for making extract, and as luck would have it, they’re also the cheapest. I just did a quick eBay search, and one seller has 40 organic Grade B vanilla beans for less than $13, which includes shipping. If you want an even better deal, there was also a listing for ONE POUND of Grade B beans for less than $18 with free shipping (if I’m not mistaken, there would be anywhere from 100 to 160 Grade B beans in a pound, depending on their size). You should use anywhere from 4 to 6 beans per cup of alcohol.

Speaking of alcohol, I use plain vodka; it’s neutral, so it won’t detract from the flavor of the vanilla. I think it’s pretty much the standard for homemade extract, but I HAVE heard of some people using brandy (I thought that brandy has a distinctive flavor, although I’m not a brandy connoisseur – it’s probably best to stick to the vodka).

You’ll need: A bottle for steeping; a bottle for storage; vanilla beans; and vodka.

Click for larger view.

Instructions:

1. Calculate how many beans you’re going to need; there are roughly 3 cups of vodka in a 750 mil. bottle, so you’ll need 12 to 18 beans.
2. Knock back a swig or two from your vodka bottle because you’ll need enough head room to add the beans. Or, you can find an empty bottle large enough to accommodate all 750 mils. and the beans together.
3. Use a paring knife to split the beans open (down the wide side is fine).
4. Add the beans to the vodka.
5. If you’re using a clear bottle (not brown or another dark color), put your bottle in a paper bag and close the bag; darkness is important, although I have no idea why.
6. Store your bottle in an out-of-the-way place and forget about it for a while. When you think about it, take it out, shake it up, then put it back in its place.

After one month, you’ll have a somewhat weak extract, so I recommend soaking for two to three months before you try to use it. If, after that time, you’re desperately in need of extract, pour enough out to get you by, then let the rest continue to “steep.” Six months is probably ideal. The following picture shows my beans that have been steeping for about five months; click the image to enlarge:



I try to get more than one use out of the beans that have already been soaked. What I usually do is empty that beautiful, aromatic liquid into my amber storage bottle via funnel (when it’s ready), and I look at the steeped beans; I remove the ones that have turned light brown, but keep the ones that are still dark brown. I add more fresh beans (split, of course), fill the steeping bottle with more vodka, then start the process all over again. Now you can walk right by that ridiculously priced, little bottle of Mc-extract in the grocery store with your nose stuck straight up in the air!

I should mention that you’re going to have teeny vanilla beans in your extract; some people like this, some don’t. If you want to keep the teeny beans in your extract, then just pour the extract from your steeping bottle to your storage bottle. If you want the beans filtered out, I suggest dampening some cheesecloth with vodka, lining your funnel with it, and filtering your extract into the bottle through the cheesecloth. The following picture shows an example of the beans that will be floating around:



Note: Any leftover beans should keep well if properly stored. Most sellers ship vanilla beans vacuum-packed, but if you have some left-over that are no longer sealed, here’s what you do: Put them in a ziplock bag, and seal the bag except for a space big enough to insert a straw; Suck the air out of the bag with the straw, then when you can’t suck anymore air, remove the straw and zip the bag completely closed; Store the beans in a cool, dry place.

Here’s an idea for a creative gift: You know those, “gifts in a jar?” In case you’re not familiar, you print the recipe for your favorite cookie, brownie or bar on a cute little recipe card, then you measure out all of the dry ingredients into a canning jar, seal it, tie a nice ribbon around it, and give it as a gift. All the lucky person who receives this gift needs to do is add the wet ingredients and bake. Wouldn’t it be a nice touch to also include the vanilla, labeled as your own creation? “This jar contains vanilla extract, my own personal brew, made with love and care, especially for you!”

UPDATE, 2/24/2013: This is the longest I’ve steeped my vanilla beans; the extract in this bottle was started over 14 months ago, and it smells…heavenly! I transferred half of the liquid to my extract bottle and put the rest back into its dark space under the kitchen table — what’s left could very well make it to two years or more!

FOURTEEN MONTHS...just look at that beautiful, dark brown extract!

FOURTEEN MONTHS…just look at that beautiful, dark brown extract!



For a printer-friendly .pdf version of this recipe, CLICK HERE..


5 Responses to “Homemade Vanilla Extract”

  1. Doomna Says:

    I never thought of making my own vanilla extract at home. Might have to try this next time, actually I buy vanilla beans…Thank you for this great information.

  2. CEB Says:

    I haven’t bought vanilla extract in the store since I started making my own…enjoy!

  3. Louis Says:

    That is a great idea for a gift. I never would have thought of that, but I know a lot of people who love cooking and looking for something with Thanksgiving and holidays just around the corner. Awesome info on making Vanilla extract as well. Cool work…

  4. CEB Says:

    Thanks!

  5. mike Says:

    Very nice blog ,Homemade is best and anything natural is very Good.My wife will like this.

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