Homemade Vanilla Extract
|June 19, 2015||Filled under Cakes, Canning and Preserving, Cookies, Frugal Tips and Tricks, Try Something New!|
While I am perfectly aware that it’s only July, I also know that I’d like to give my friends Homemade Vanilla Extract for Christmas this year. It doesn’t necessarily take six months to make, but the longer is sits, the richer the flavor.
About three years ago, I was at the grocery store purchasing yet another bottle of vanilla extract when I decided enough was enough. I didn’t want to pay nearly $8 for a tiny bottle of pure vanilla extract, and I certainly didn’t want to sacrifice flavor of my favorite recipes just to save a couple of dollars on imitation vanilla extract. Yuck! It was then that I learned how to make my own. What makes homemade vanilla extract so much better than store bought? You have control over the quality and type of vanilla used in the extract, and making your own will provide significantly better flavor and aroma than commercially produced extracts. Did you know that the FDA regulates vanilla extract by weight, not quality. Yikes! There’s really no way to know what you’re getting. Homemade vanilla also has nothing artificial – colors and sweeteners (corn syrup) are found in many store-bought extracts. It is also now possible to make vanilla extract from different types of vanilla beans, each of which has a unique flavor. For example, Mexican vanilla beans are a little smokey and spicy (awesome in homemade ice cream), while you’ll get a rich and creamy flavor from Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. Tahitian vanilla beans are more floral and a little fruity. Each one, however, is excellent for homemade vanilla extract. Also, don’t get hung up on using Grade A beans. Those are generally best for cooking – like tossing one in to steep when making custard for ice cream. Grade B vanilla beans are great for making extract.
Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans
This doesn’t mean the vanilla contains whiskey, it refers to the I’le de Bourbon (now known as Réunion.) Most Bourbon vanilla is now grown on the island of Madagascar, the largest vanilla-producing region on the world. Bourbon vanilla is the strongest and most full-flavored of all the vanillas and gives you the most bang for your buck. I use Bourbon vanilla for baking, since it’s flavor doesn’t lose potency when cooked.
Tahitian Vanilla Beans
Tahitian vanilla has a more delicate flavor; very floral and tropical. I use it in things like fruit salads, smoothies and whipped cream since baking with it seems a waste of it’s subtle flavor.
I’ve always purchased my beans from Vanilla Products USA, both directly from their website and from them on eBay. I’ve been very happy with their products and service. They even toss in freebies when you order! I’ve also read that Beanilla is good and carries a wider variety of beans, and Olive Nation is pretty popular. (Olive Nation, btw, has tons of fabulous stuff. I am particularly smitten with their huge selection of PURE extracts. Cherry, pear, coconut and banana are my favorites. These are super hard for me to find locally and in pure form.) So, let’s get to the vanilla-making – it couldn’t be easier.
Ingredients for 1/2 gallon of Vanilla Extract:
- Vanilla Beans (your favorite variety) – 1 oz ( about 8-10 beans depending on the size) per cup of alcohol (1/2 gallon = 8 cups) or approximately 64-80 vanilla beans
- Vodka – no real need to get top shelf here, anything 75-80 proof is perfect (1/2 gallon of vodka very nearly equals one 1.75 liter bottle of vodka)
A note about the alcohol choices: while vodka is most commonly used to make vanilla extract because of it’s neutral flavor, I’ve also made extract with rum and with whiskey. Each adds a bit of flavor which I think enhances my recipes and I usually have a jar of each in my cabinet. (For a vanilla extract recipe that is alcohol-free, see the end of this post.) That’s it…two ingredients. Booze and beans. What could be easier? 1. Split the beans Cut your vanilla beans lengthwise either with a sharp knife or kitchen shears. I usually leave one end attached…I dunno…
OCD quirky personal preference? To scrape or not to scrape? While I truly love the look of the vanilla bean seeds running through my recipes, I’ve found that scraping out the inside of the beans at this point isn’t necessary and I, quite frankly, find it tedious and don’t have the time. It all seems to make it’s way out into the extract eventually. Others like to hasten this process by scraping the caviar and adding it separate from the beans. 2. Add the split beans to your container. I make this in pint jars (2 cups each) and wind up with 4 jars of extract per 1/2 gallon. I use 15-20 beans in each. (I feel like this ultimately gives me something close to a double strength vanilla extract.) You may simply use a half gallon jar or any combination in between. Some people make the extract right in the vodka bottle, though you have to remove some of the vodka to make room for the beans. For my pint jars, I fold the beans in half so they’ll fit. I also put them in with the ends facing down to make them easier to work with. 3. Fill your container with vodka (or you alcohol of choice). Make sure the beans are completely covered, pop the lid on and give it a shake. It reminds me of a snow globe with all the beautiful seeds floating around. I also label the top of each jar with what each blend is comprised of and the date it was started. In this case, I used Madagascar beans and vodka. Some of my lids say “MAD RUM” for Madagascar beans and rum or “TAH VOD” for Tahitian beans and vodka. You get the idea… 4. Keep shaking. The full extraction process takes 4-6 months (yes, I know that’s a long time.) Technically, you could use it sooner, but the flavor will be better if you wait. During this time, keep your jar(s) is a cool, dark place like a closet. For the first week or so, try to give it shake each day. Don’t worry if you forget sometimes, it’s no big deal. 🙂 After that, visit it every so often to see how it’s doing and shake it again. Open it up and take a whiff. …I *heart* vanilla. 5. Ready to put it into action! Finally. Around here, I simply use the extract right out of the jar I made it in. Remember how we put the ends of the beans in first? This keeps those cute curly ends from hanging on to my measuring spoon when I dip it in the jar. Every so often, I top off my personal jar with a little more vodka to keep the beans pretty well covered. It doesn’t take long to bring the flavor back to full strength. Giving it away as a gift? Great idea and you’ll be so popular you’ll need a new social calendar! Grab yourself some amber-colored bottles (mine come from here and I use the 4 ounce and the 8 ounce Boston round bottles; this website has them pretty cheap, too. Amazon has a good variety here Boston Round Bottles, 4 Oz Pack of 12), a funnel and a coffee filter or fine-mesh strainer. Put the funnel into the bottle and add a coffee filter (if you don’t want any of the seeds) or a strainer (if you don’t mind the seeds.) I’m am on Team Vanilla Seed and also add a fresh, split vanilla bean to each of my bottles to keep that flavor maturing. Decant your fabulous extract into each bottle, print up some cute labels and you’re all set!
Oh, and don’t forget to add me to your gift list!
Alcohol-Free Homemade Vanilla Extract
In case anyone is interested in an alcohol-free vanilla extract recipe, I came across this in search of one for my friend who has Celiac disease. It uses vegetable-based glycerine. 16 fl. oz. food grade vegetable glycerin, 6 fl. oz. hot water, and approximately 8 vanilla beans. In jar with tight fitting lid, mix glycerine and hot water, replace lid, shake well. Split beans in half length wise, scrape out seeds and add to jar, then cut split beans in half, add to jar. Replace lid, shake well, store in cool dry place, shaking occasionally.. While some said it would be ready after six weeks, others said three months. I’m going to follow Ivan’s advice and go six months. No refrigeration required.
Have you made vanilla extract before? What’s your favorite blend? I bet you could also play around with some of the flavored vodkas that seem to be really popular right now. How about buying a few of the mini bottles (less than two ounces) and popping 1 split bean in each bottle?
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