Well, the Holidays have officially come and gone. While I’m sure many of you are eager to pack away the decorations and forget about all the hubbub until next December, I say now is the perfect time to get a head start on your gifts for next year. Or your Christmas baking (don’t worry, you won’t actually be baking anything yet). There’s a reason you need to think ahead sometimes with gifts, at least if you’re making them. Sometimes it takes a really, really long time to make something good. As is the case with Homemade Vanilla Extract.
Don’t worry – even though you need to start making your vanilla soon in order to get it packaged up for Christmas next year, you certainly won’t be working on it all year. It’s very low maintenance. All you need to do is get some vanilla beans (I ordered mine from Beanilla and was very happy with both the price and quality), slice into them, stuff them into a glass bottle and fill it up with vodka. Let it hang out in your pantry for the next several months, but don’t forget to give it a good shake every now and then.
This was my first time making vanilla from scratch, and I didn’t really know what to expect. The instructions I was working off of (from Beanilla) said it would only take 8 weeks to turn a bottle full of vodka and vanilla beans into vanilla extract. But the 8 week period came and went and I was not confident that it was ready to use – it still smelled heavily of vodka. In fact, 8 MONTHS passed by before I decided it was ready. HOWEVER: in hindsight I think it would have been ready sooner. The only vanilla I had to compare to was some heavy duty stuff from Mexico. When I ended up buying a bottle from Costco, it smelled just like my homemade stuff. But, there is no harm in letting it sit for months – the longer, the better. Perhaps mine took longer because I wasn’t shaking it as often as I should have (once or twice a week).
When you decide your vanilla is done, you could either decant it into smaller bottles to give away, or you could just keep it for yourself and use it as is. No need to remove the vanilla beans. In fact, with the beans still in there, as you use the vanilla, you can top it off with small amounts of vodka every now and then for a few months. If you notice the potency of the vanilla start to drop off, stop adding extra vodka.
Making your own vanilla is definitely cost effective. I bought 25 vanilla beans for $17. This was good to make about 1 liter of vanilla (I tossed in a couple of other beans I had on hand as well). This meant that I needed a liter of vodka. You certainly don’t need top shelf vodka. Whatever cheaper stuff you can find is fine. The stuff I used we got for free from going on a distillery tour, but it would have cost under $10/bottle if we paid for it (although good luck finding prices like this in Canada – it will definitely cost you more).
If you’re a baker, or you know anyone that bakes, this will definitely get used. Just make sure to start another batch well before you use your current bottle up!
- 7 vanilla beans
- 1 cup vodka 8oz
Slice up the length of each vanilla bean, leaving the bean attached at one end.
Place vanilla beans into a well-sealing glass bottle or jar that is large enough to hold the amount of vanilla you want to make.
Pour vodka over beans, using a funnel if necessary. Shake vigorously.
Store in a dark, room temperature place for several months, shaking vigorously once to twice per week.
When vanilla is done, you will still be able to smell the vodka, but it will also smell strongly of vanilla. Use vanilla directly from this container, without removing beans or decant into smaller bottles to give as gifts. If the beans remain in the vanilla, it can be topped off with small amounts of vodka occasionally for a few months. Stop adding vodka when the vanilla's potency decreases.