There must nine hundred and ninety-eleven recipes for homemade vanilla extract online, and I suppose that's why I've never seriously considered posting a recipe for it here. But I've had a change of heart, because it's something I make regularly and use in almost every sweet thing I bake.
The reason why I love homemade vanilla extract so much is because I know it's pure (I control the ingredients), it costs less to make and - most importantly - the flavor is superlative. As far as staple ingredients go, it's pretty important to me.
This year everyone on my holiday gift list is getting a bottle of homemade vanilla extract - not just the avid bakers in my circle, but also the occasional chocolate chip cookie makers and even my pal who uses her oven as a make-shift magazine rack (she likes vanilla in her hot cocoa and coffee). Everyone can benefit from the loving touch of a little vanilla, if you ask me.
The bean pods need to steep for several weeks, so if you get started now (right now!) the extract will be ready in early December.
|It's best if the pods can steep for at least 8 weeks. In the picture above, you can see how the extract develops over time.|
You'll need just two ingredients and bottles with tightly fitting lids to make the extract. My personal touches to the bottles are wax-sealed caps and botanical washi tape "labels". Here's a run-down of everything I used, and a few links to the specialty products.
- Vodka 35-40% alcohol (70-80 proof): Opinions are sure to vary on this, but I say there's no need to buy top shelf. I usually buy an inexpensive variety of vodka, and make sure to steep the vanilla pods for a full 8 weeks before using the extract in a recipe. As long as the vodka isn't too harsh or bitter on the tongue, then it should be fine for extract making. I sometimes use Smirnoff because it can often be found on sale, or read the virtues of $8 Nikolai vodka here.
- Madagascar vanilla beans: These vanilla beans are strongly fragrant and have a creamy taste that goes well in cakes, cookies and quick breads. Vanilla beans in general can be awfully expensive, but if you them in bulk they cost much, much less. I've been a repeat buyer of this brand, and I've never had a bad batch. I usually get a few more than their promised 22-24 beans. My last shipment held 27 fat bean pods. I use these beans specifically for extract making, and save the more pricey Tahitian vanilla beans for custards and frostings.
- Lidded 5 ounce bottles: Theseare actually sold as hot sauce bottles, but their size was spot-on for gifting. They're bigger than the usual 2 ounce grocery store bottles, and tall enough to accommodate most whole beans. I only wish these came in amber or green bottles, because dark bottles will obscure sunlight and prevent the flavor from being sapped over time - although that's not a real concern for me, I go through bottles of vanilla extract very quickly.
- Sealing wax: I used burgundy sealing wax on the bottles I'm gifting. Thiskind of wax, in bead form, melts easily. I heated it in a small metal measuring cup over medium heat on the stove-top. You could also use a small aluminum disposable pan in which to melt the wax, for easier clean-up.
- Filament tape: If you plan to cap the bottles in wax, you'll need to wrap a little filament tape around the bottom edge of the bottle cap to make a pull tab. (Filament tape has fibers running through it to give it strength, if you didn't know that already.) This makes the wax cap easy to remove. (See pictures for further explanation.)
- Decorative washi tape: This is not essential, but it is quite pretty. I found a forest botanical print tape at Terrain Shop. Something about those little mushrooms made me feel happy.