This week I pulled these glass bottles of vanilla extract that have been brewing down in our basement since last fall. Vanilla extract is very simple to make, makes great Christmas gifts, and your kitchen will smell like baker’s heaven while you are making it. You only need a few supplies:
1. Vanilla Beans
There are many opinions on which variety of beans to use, and the differences in their flavors, which you can read about more in this interesting article. I bought mine on Ebay, though you can also find them from Amazon, and many other places. The main thing to look for is beans that are still plump and moist- they shouldn’t be all shriveled up and dry. You can buy vanilla beans at Costco, but they are overpriced, and in my experience not very fresh.
2. Glass bottles
You can use an old glass vinegar bottle, a wine bottle with a tight fitting lid, these 16 ounce swing top bottles from Amazon, Ikea’s Korken swing top bottles, or check your local Dollar Tree for their their glass Oil and Vinegar bottles for only $1 each.
It’s important to use something that is at least 80-proof, so that there’s enough alcohol to extract the flavor. I used Vodka, because I wanted something neutral. You can also use bourbon, which gives it a different and distinct flavor.
The actual process is easy – split the pods open with a sharp knife, and cut the pods in half if they are too tall for your bottle. Scrape as much of the seed paste out of each pod as you can, and put the paste and the pods into your bottle of choice. I used about 1 pod for every 2 ounces of Vodka, though you can use more or less to your preference. Opinions vary wildly as to how long it takes to extract the flavor, with some claiming as few as 4 weeks, but I left mine in the basement for almost a year. Shake every few weeks, or whenever you stumble across it in the back of your cupboard. Store in a cool, dry, dark spot, but not in the refrigerator.
I spent $14 on vanilla beans, and $18 on 1.75 liters of Vodka which I bought from Costco. These $32 of materials yielded 60 ounces Vanilla Extract. This works out to be about 53 cents per ounce, which is much cheaper than buying little bottles of Vanilla Extract from your local grocery store (this varies, but can easily cost $1.50 per ounce or more), but slightly more expensive than buying it from Costco (about $0.50 per ounce.) On the other hand, Costco’s vanilla has added sugar, and not as robust a flavor.
You can also reuse your beans in a second batch of vanilla extract, though the second round will not be as strong, or use the vanilla beans to make Vanilla Sugar. I’m afraid it’s too late to make vanilla extract for holiday baking and Christmas presents this year, but now is the perfect time to start a batch brewing for next year!