When you bake as much as I do you go through your pantry staples pretty quickly. Butter, flour, and sugar are always fresh in my house because I’m constantly replacing the empty containers. One staple that can disappear fast and cost quite a bit of money is vanilla extract. I’m a big believer in pure vanilla extract over the strange chemicals and fillers found in the imitation variety. That means it can cost me a pretty penny when it comes time to replace my bottle of vanilla.
What if I told you that you could not only make your own vanilla for pennies an ounce but also have plenty around to last you all year? And its so easy! Let’s go!
Start with some great vanilla beans. This is not the time to hit up your regular grocery store. Chances are you’ll find beans individually wrapped and overpriced. Do some research online and place a bulk order of beans. It will be cheaper in the long run and really not all that expensive up front. My favorite source is Olive Nation. Their vanilla beans are reasonably priced (all vanilla beans ship free!) and I love the quality. Sign up for their emails and receive periodic discount codes, or Laura over at Heavenly Homemakers posted a code that gives you 10% off your entire order. Its good through the rest of the year, just enter hhm2012 at checkout.
Next you’ll need some alcohol. Vanilla extract is basically alcohol infused with vanilla beans. I like the clean taste of vodka, but you could also use bourbon or brandy. For this batch I did a few jars of vodka and a few of brandy. You can see the starting difference in the picture above (brandy is on the right). This is one area you can go cheap on. Buy a big old bottle of the cheapest vodka and try not to feel ridiculous when you pay for it.
The final piece of the puzzle is mason jars or some other glass container with a tight fitting lid. The larger the jar you choose the longer it will take for your extract to finish. For this reason I like using small pint size jars or quart jars. If you just want to use one large gallon jug go for it, but just know that you will have to wait longer for your vanilla. Wash your jars in hot soapy water or dip them in boiling water and allow them to air dry so they are sterile and ready to go.
For a pint size mason jar, use a sharp knife to cut six vanilla beans in half lengthwise, leaving the top 1/2 inch of each bean uncut. Place the cut beans in the mason jar and top with two cups of vodka. Make sure the beans are entirely submerged and cover the jar. Give it a shake and place it in a cool, dark place for two months. If you are using a quart size jar, use 12 beans and four cups of vodka, letting them soak for four months. Once a week or so take the jars out and give them a shake just to get things moving around in there.
Vanilla beans on my fingers! I love it. Your hands will smell amazing for the rest of the day.
When your vanilla is done you have the option of using it right out of the mason jar (just give it a good shake first) or transferring it to another container. I like these bottles for my vanilla. I just use a funnel to transfer the extract from the jar to the bottle. Make sure you get all the little bean specks that are floating around in there, that’s where the major flavor lies. You can then keep the used vanilla beans in the jars and fill them back up with vodka or other alcohol. You might need to let the beans soak a little longer than the first time to get the full flavor, but they are definitely reusable.
You did it! You’re ready to use your vanilla in all of your baking adventures or pass some out as an inexpensive Christmas gift. Just give the jar or bottle a shake before measuring out and use as you would store bought vanilla extract without the cost and constant replacing. The picture below shows you the final product. There is one jar of brandy on the right and two vodkas on the left.
Looking for some ideas of how to use your vanilla extract? Here are some of my favorites where vanilla can really shine:
What are some of your favorite ways to use vanilla extract?