Baking season will soon be upon us and with that comes many baking sessions. Making your own vanilla extract isn’t difficult and it doesn’t require a lot of ingredients or time, but it does take some planning ahead. Mid-August is the perfect time to make a batch of vanilla extract for the fall and winter baking season.
As with any extract, the purpose of the alcohol is to ‘extract’ or ‘pull away’ fragrant compounds from the vanilla beans and imparting that rich and pure, sweet-smelling homemade vanilla extract. This process can take anywhere from one month to 6 months. But the actual hands-on time making vanilla extract is actually quite simple.
You take good quality vanilla beans and drown it with good quality alcohol and set aside in a dark place for a few months. I don’t remove the beans when it’s ready to be used. In fact, I will sometimes scrape off the vanilla seeds from a used vanilla bean to add to my homemade vanilla ice cream. Man! That is a lot of vanilla’s in a sentence. Once that jar of vanilla extract is used up, I will add more vodka to that container and set it aside for a few more months. That way, I can typically get more mileage out of a package of vanilla beans. However, if you prefer the extremely rich, dark vanilla extract, then I wouldn’t advice doing double dipping like that but I personally haven’t noticed a difference in the quality of the vanilla extract. You can re-purpose the used vanilla beans in other recipes.
Vanilla bean quality is determined by moisture content. Gourmet (Grade A) vanilla beans are extremely moist, so much so that the bean will leave oily residue on your fingers after touching. Vanilla beans with high moisture content are soft to the touch and flexible when bent. All vanilla beans should be vacuum sealed to prevent exposure to air. This is essential to a high quality vanilla bean. In the past, I have purchased this assortment but have since switched over to either Mountain Rose Herb’s vanilla beans or this variety, both of which are very high quality.
The main spirit used to make vanilla extract, vodka, is now often made with plants derived from genetically modified organisms. Because of this, I prefer organic vodka by Phillips Distillery, made from organic corn and distilled and bottled using organic standards. I purchased a 1.75L bottle at Costco for under $20. Absolut Vodka and SKYY area also good options as they strive to use non-GMO ingredients in their products.
The Cost Analysis
Storebought organic vanilla extract will set you back $2.54 per ounce. Making homemade extract cost me approximately $0.64 per ounce. That is a substantial savings, considering I don’t usually make just one ounce. For example, in the batch below – I used a 16 oz bottle and it cost me $10.33 for ingredients ($5 for 10 vanilla beans and $5.33 for 16 ounces of vodka using Organic Prairie Vodka from Costco). I realize, not everyone has access to Costco’s savings but there is still quite a monetary cushion between homemade version and storebought. I’m saving almost $2 per ounce making my own homemade vanilla extract. That’s a total savings of $30.40 for the entire 16 oz bottle.
To impart those vanilla flavors into the alcohol medium faster, I always split the vanilla beans. This step is optional and if you’re short on time, you can just toss the beans and vodka together and you’re good to go. But I do find that this way the vanilla pods are more exposed and are quicker to infuse the vodka.
Toss those vanilla beans inside a
clean not-so-clean 16oz jar or bottle.
Pour vodka over the vanilla beans making sure they are all covered.
Cover tightly, give it a shake and let sit in a dark area for at least a month. The longer, the more flavor the vanilla beans have imparted.
Use it just like you would your store-bought vanilla extract.
Above is a picture of two batches of vanilla extract. On the left is the new, fresh bottle of vanilla extract and the right contains a bottle of previously made vanilla extract, after 5 months of infusion. Though it may not be as dark as you would find on the store shelves, it is just as potent. But if you so desire, you can up the vanilla beans and use more for a richer, darker hue.