Saturday, September 14, 2013

Homemade Vanilla Extract

If you are a person who is interested in baking, then this post is for you.

Vanilla extract.  Most people have some sort of vanilla extract in their pantry, either imitation or pure vanilla extract or something else.

Have you ever thought about making your own vanilla extract?  I'd like to share a quick and easy recipe for pure vanilla extract that uses only two easy ingredients: liquor and vanilla beans.
Last Christmas we got a "make your own vanilla kit" from Charlie's dad.  We were excited to experiment, and got it going right after Christmas.  About a week ago, we remembered that the vanilla was tucked away in the back of the pantry and pulled it out!  To our delight, the vanilla was amazing.  It had a strong vanilla presence with a rich, complex flavor and incredibly smooth aroma.  I loved that the homemade vanilla extract doesn't have any imitation flavors or chemicals. 

Now, to start the discussion, I just wanted to chat about purchasing vanilla beans.  If you have ever purchased vanilla beans from your local grocery store, you know they come in a glass bottle and cost somewhere in the range of $8-$12 for one dried up vanilla bean that is impossible to split properly.  I don't think it is a good idea to pay so much for such a low quality ingredient.  We have started buying our vanilla beans online in bulk, and have been very happy with the quality.  Charlie found a great website that we purchase our vanilla beans from.  We have found that they last for at least a year, or even longer if you put them in the freezer.     

My plan is now to have my own homemade vanilla extract on hand at all times, to use in recipes where vanilla extra plays a large role in the flavor.  Making your own vanilla might seem like an unnecessary waste of time, but so far in my experience, I have found that the quality of homemade vanilla extract is unrivaled. 

After you get the vanilla going, you will be able to start using it in about 8 weeks.  When I pour out some vanilla extract, I top it off with a little more vodka.  From what I have read, homemade vanilla extract is like fine wine and will get better with age.  Topping off the bottle is an economical way to make your homemade vanilla extract last for years!  It will start to thin out after awhile, but you can always just drop in another vanilla bean or two and the extract will come back up to strength. 

If some of the vanilla beans are getting faded looking, just take them out and dry them on some paper towels for an hour or two.  Then, you can put them in a container of sugar and make vanilla sugar.  Vanilla sugar can be used for many recipes, such as a topping on sugar cookies, a topping on creme brulee and in most of your favorite baking recipes.  I love getting as much as I can out of an expensive ingredient like vanilla beans.


Homemade Vanilla Extract


5 vanilla beans
8 ounces vodka
Use a knife to spilt the bean in half, making sure to leave about half inch at each end intact.  Place vanilla beans in bottle and cover with vodka.  Close bottle and store in a cool, dry place for about 8 weeks, then start using your vanilla!  But remember, top it off! 

Note: Bourbon, rum or brandy can also be used in place of the vodka, however, they will impart extra flavor to the vanilla extract. This may be interesting!  I haven't experimented that far yet.  If you have or do, please let me know!

Next note:  Choosing different types of vanilla beans can impart different flavors to your homemade vanilla extract.  Mexican vanilla beans impart a bold and smokey flavor.  Madagascar vanilla beans impart a rich and creamy flavor.  Tahitian vanilla beans impart a floral aroma and a unique cherry-chocolate flavor.  Each kind of vanilla bean makes a delicious extract.  You can even blend different vanilla bean varieties together.  And even go a step farther and mix liquors and vanilla beans and create your own new vanilla extract flavor.  Have fun and experiment! 

And finally, last note: If you are concerned about the alcohol smell, you have a couple of options.  You can put the extract in your dehydrator on very low heat for 12 hours.  Or, you could put the extract in a sauce pan and slowly heat it to 180 degrees.  Most of the alcohol will evaporate out at 167 to 175 degrees.  The issue with this is that your extract will not last as long anymore, as the alcohol is what acts as the preservative and allows the extract to "brew" for years.

Make your own vanilla extract?  Let me know your experiences! 

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