We do a great deal of baking in this house. DH makes chocolate chip cookies 2-3 times a month. I make muffins, brownies, pound cake, and non-chocolate chip cookies.
We go through vanilla extract like water.
I’ve seen recipes for homemade vanilla before but given the cost & quality of beans I can find locally, I’ve never given it much consideration.
Finding the beans is one of the two hardest steps in making your own vanilla extract
Then, about a month or so ago I came across a post somewhere that mentioned they bought vanilla beans off of Amazon. There are highly rated sellers of premium beans at reasonable prices on Amazon.
Amazon means books to me, not food so I’d never thought to look there.
I checked out various sellers and eventually, after some dithering, I bought some.
Then I googled every homemade vanilla extract recipe I could find and discovered there is absolutely no agreement on anything apart from using the best beans you can afford and the cheapest vodka you can find.
The amount of beans to vodka (1 bean per cup? 5 beans per cup?), the length of time you let it steep (3 days? 3 weeks? 3 months?), even the environment it steeps it (a cool dark place? a warm dark place? in front of a sunny window?) are all up for debate.
I turned to Cooks Illustrated because 95% of the time I have great success with their recipes. I liked their method but I thought their bean to vodka ratio was kind of skimpy so I came up with my own recipe and then asked DH to bring home the cheapest bottle of vodka he could find.
This vodka is so cheap just looking at it makes your eyes all blurry.
Using the method from CI, we poured the entire bottle into a saucepan and warmed it up
Don’t boil or simmer it, just warm it up, like nice hot bath warm.
While it was warming I slit open and scraped 8 vanilla beans
Then I added the beans and the vanilla scraping to the warm vodka and turned off the heat.
We let it cool down in the pan for about a half hour and then poured it all in to the vodka bottle.
We’d lost about a quarter of a cup or so of vodka to evaporation.
Write the date on it, so you remember when you made it, then put it someplace out of the way.
Even with the vanilla beans, the cheapness of the vodka continues to blur the eyes.
Now comes the second and most difficult part of making your own vanilla extract.
Once a day, every day, you must REMEMBER to shake the bottle.
We managed this for about a week & then it became more like once every couple or three days.
We let it steep for a month, which was the average for the non heated recipes. CI says the heating speeds up the process and their 3/4 cup of extract is ready in a week. But that seemed really soon to us and as we had no pressing need for vanilla extract right then we waited until we did.
Then it was time to decant it to smaller bottles.
No real reason required this apart from aesthetic ones. It’s awkward pouring a teaspoon of vanilla out of a liter sized bottle.
And I had these cute little Coke bottles left over from Christmas I wanted to use.
I gathered the bottles, corks, a small strainer and a funnel
and poured the vanilla out into each bottle. Then I took a couple of the bean pods from the bottle, cut them in half and stuck them into each smaller one for more flavoring.
If you put a fresh one in I am told you can keep replenishing the bottle of extract with vodka as needed.
But I filled 3 of these 9 ounce bottles, making 27 ounces of extract. So I’m good for now.
If I were giving them as gifts (which I will be with the next batch) I would have used a fresh bean.
A 2 ounce bottle of McCormick’s pure vanilla extract (CI’s choice pick) costs anywhere from $2.50 on sale to $4 depending on which grocery store I visit. So at best it is $1.25 an ounce
The vodka was $7, the 54 beans were $23. This works out to 38 cents an ounce or 43 cents if I’d stuck a fresh bean in the smaller bottles.
It is a little lighter in color than store bought but the taste & the smell are the same. I know from talking to others it will get darker & stronger as it sits.
We’ll be making another batch this summer to give as Christmas presents.
Do you make anything unusual from scratch?