I'm a big believer in "it's the small things that make all the difference". I enjoy taking extra steps to make a dish extra special and tasty. But I also know that not everyone feels this way. Which is why I strive to show people how easy it is to cater a recipe to your taste but also the amount of effort you want to put into that recipe. There's shortcuts you can take if you don't have the same passion for making everything from scratch.
After watching an episode of Barefoot Contessa, I was totally inspired to try making my own vanilla extract. A quick search on the internet and I realized it's all the rage right now. And while I understand it sounds a bit crazy to make your own vanilla extract, IT'S NOT!!! A bottle of good quality vanilla extract will cost you about $20 for 8 oz. It costs about $40 to make a HANDLE (1.75 liters) of vanilla extract. So you get better quality for way less money. Not only that, but it is an incredibly easy process. I'll never buy vanilla extract again!
To make vanilla extract you need 2 ingredients. Vanilla beans and vodka. A lot of people have misconceptions about what makes high quality "bourbon vanilla extract". It's actually the type of bean you use, not substituting bourbon for vodka. Vanilla beans at the grocery store are really expensive. I found a great seller on ebay that sells the best vanilla beans I've ever come across. They're plump and juicy. A ½ lb costs about $16.99 (about 50 beans) and they run specials all the time where they will throw in an extra ¼ lb for free! If you want to get real fancy you can buy "Gourmet A Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans" (the highest quality) for $26.99 a ½ lb. If you want to make your own extract but not in bulk, My Spice Sage sells much smaller quantities for cheap. Vanilla Saffron imports sells organic and different varieties (tahitian and mexican) if that's important to you.
Another great part about making your own extract is that you can add a little more vodka to the bottle as you go and it replenishes itself! Plus you get gorgeous flecks of vanilla beans in your food since you're using real vanilla beans. I always think the little vanilla flecks make a dish feel more special.
I got my bottles here (15 - 4 oz bottles per 1.75 liters you make), but you can us any container you like. I stumbled upon a blog that had the most gorgeous design for their homemade extract. I loved the gingham ribbon she paired with the bottles so I copied the idea. I thought it would be a fun gift for the Holidays. I bought sticker printer paper from amazon for the labels as well as a circle cutter to make the cutting process easier. I'm not going to lie, it was A LOT of work but I think it turned out great. If you don't want to put that much effort in, I don't blame you. BUT, making the extract is easy, so I highly suggest trying it.
I had a few leftover vanilla beans so I decided to make some vanilla sugar too. It's even easier to make! There's tons you can do with vanilla beans so go crazy, buy in bulk and enjoy the extra special feeling you get from baking and cooking with REAL vanilla beans!
yields 1.75 liters (15 - 4 oz bottles)
40 madegascar vanilla beans
1.75 liters vodka
Slice vanilla beans length ways down the middle without slicing all the way through the bean (if you do it's not the end of the world, just drop it in anyway). Pour out about a cup of the vodka and start dropping the beans in the jar. Use common sense... if the liquid is coming to close to the top, pour out a little more. Once all the beans are in, pour excess vodka back in the bottle until it's filled to the top. Use the extra leftovers for a drink, or you can put a bean or two in a smaller jar with the remaining vodka. Give it a good shake and set it in a cool dark place for 2 months. Give it a shake every now and then (I did about 2-3 times a week). In 2 months you'll have beautiful, fragrant, homemade vanilla extract!
If you're going to make mini bottles like I did, after 2 months, pour the liquid into your containers. i cut the used vanilla beans in half and placed 1 whole vanilla bean in the bottle as well. This way you continue to build the flavor in the mini bottles over time.
2 months later
it seems everyone has a slightly different bean to liquid ratio. it's not an exact science, as long as you're close (within a bean or two, you should be fine). 2 months was the general wait period but some people said up to 8 months. my guess is after 2 months, you're good to go but the longer it sits, the better it gets. if you want to make a small, personal batch, try doing 2 vanilla beans and 1 cup of vodka.
on to the fun stuff... i used smirnoff vodka because it's triple distilled (yeast free) and better quality. some people said use cheap vodka, some disagreed. i'm sure it would turn out just fine with cheap vodka but my rule of thumb is if you wouldn't drink it, why cook with it?! to each his own... seriously, it will still turn out. another thought would be making the extract with other liquors. why not do bourbon or rum?! cognac would be really fancy too! yes, you'll have more flavor imparted in your vanilla (vodka is more subtle) BUT if you love rum, for example, why not try a rum based extract instead?!
lets talk BEANS! i used high quality madegascar bourbon vanilla beans. you could use those, or extract beans if you wanted to go cheaper. i love love love mexican vanilla extract. it has a really rich, deep vanilla flavor to it. you could use any kind of vanilla bean you come across. your extract will still turn out just fine. that being said, why stop at just vanilla extract?! you could take the same principal and make mint, lemon, orange, etc... for more subtle flavors like those i would recommend sticking to a vodka based extract.
also, most store bought extracts have added sugar. since most baking requires sugar anyway, i left it out of my recipe. you could simply add a bit of sugar to your extract if you wanted. i would recommend adding a 2:1 sugar to water ratio simple syrup if you want to sweeten it. That or extra fine sugar so it will dissolve properly.
3 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
Split vanilla bean lengthwise. Place in jar with sugar and give it a shake. Let it sit for at least 1 week. BOOM... it's that easy!
you can use any type of sugar you like... organic, super fine, raw, you get the idea. also, why not play with combinations of flavors? you could do vanilla + thyme sugar, or your favorite herb. you could go completely savory with it and make a vanilla salt instead. get creative!!