A couple of years ago, my awesome friend Jess of Petrichor Frames gave me a small bottle of homemade vanilla extract for Christmas (check out her website, she builds the most amazing custom bicycles, how kick-ass is that?).
I thought the idea was super adorable, and the extract was so good that I used it all within one month. There was simply no way around it, I had to make my own.
Vanilla extract is hands down the easiest thing you could ever make. The only tricky ingredient is a little bit of patience, because it takes at least four weeks for the extract to mature. If you start now, it will be ready in time for making Christmas cookies. Print a cute label, maybe add your favorite cookie recipe, and voilà, a thoughtful and inexpensive homemade gift.
You can buy vanilla beans in bulk on amazon at very reasonable prices. Look for “grade B” or “extract grade” vanilla beans. While you can certainly use grade A, grade B beans are preferable when you are making extract, because they contain less water. If you use grade A, you may want to use a couple more beans than stated in the recipe. No matter what you decide to go with, though, I promise that this is going to be the most amazing vanilla extract you have ever used. The flavor is a lot more complex than that of the store-bought stuff, and you can be 100% certain that it contains no artificial coloring, flavors, etc. Plus, you can leave the beans in the bottles, which not only looks beautiful, but also ensures that the extract will get even stronger with time. My bottle of extract has been aging in my cupboard for about a year now. I simply top it off with a little bit of vodka when necessary. Just make sure that the beans stay submerged.
The recipe below is for a very small batch, but you can scale it up or down, depending on the size of the bottles you want to use. I used about 3.5 cups of vodka and 22 vanilla beans, and decided to let the extract mature in small bottles, because I wanted to leave the beans in the bottles when I give them away. If you want to make a larger batch and do not want to leave the beans in the extract once it is done, you can make the entire batch in one large container. When the extract has the desired strength, simply remove the beans, and fill it into smaller bottles.
My alcohol of choice is vodka, because it has a neutral flavor, but brandy and rum will work equally well, though they do add a different flavor.
If you don’t use vanilla extract, why not try lemon or orange instead? Simply substitute the vanilla beans with fresh organic lemon or orange peels (avoid the bitter white pith).
Are you excited to get started?
You will need:
- 6 vanilla beans
- 240 ml (≈ 1 cup) vodka (or brandy or rum)
- clean glass bottles with airtight lids
- Using a sharp kitchen knife, slice the vanilla beans lengthwise.
- Cut them into the desired length (remember that you want the beans to stay submerged in the alcohol) and place them in the bottle.
- Fill the bottle with vodka and close it tightly. Shake vigorously.
- Let the extract age in a dark place at room temperature for about four weeks, shake every other day.