Making your own vanilla is super easy, very cost effective, and will up your coolness factor with your non-vanilla-making friends and family. If that’s not enough, you can also easily make the vanilla gluten-free to accommodate special needs in your circle of people.
If you’ve never made your own vanilla, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is. And how inexpensive, too, compared to the store bought variety. (The last time I bought vanilla (because I wasn’t paying attention and ran out of the homemade stuff), it was on sale for $10.50 for 4 oz. And I’ve seen it for higher.)
Besides vanilla beans and alcohol, you also need least two months of time to let it seep. (Although I like to let it sit even longer for maximum flavor.) What that means is: NOW is a good time to start vanilla for holiday baking and gift giving.
Here’s all you need:
Vanilla beans, 2-3 beans per 1 cup of alcohol (I use three–I’d rather spend the extra .50 cents and have it nice and strong).
Vodka or Bourbon, with at least a 35% alcohol level
Bottles to put it in
That’s all. So far so good, right?
There are lots of varieties of beans, but Madagascar vanilla beans are some of the best. You can get some amazingly beautiful, soft, large Madagascar vanilla beans here. I got one pound, which was 101 beans, for $50.00 and free shipping. And they arrived quickly. (This beats the $15+ for 1-2 beans you can get at the local grocery store encased in a glass tube.)
If you don’t think you can use a whole pound of beans, split them with a friend or two, or order a smaller quantity (they’re not as good a deal, but still very reasonable). They will keep for up to a year if you store them in glass. And there are other things besides vanilla extract you can make with them.
If you want to go the gluten free route, make sure the alcohol you purchase is grain free. I found a list of gluten free vodkas over at www.celiacdisease.about.com but once I got in the liquor store, I realized the non-grain vodkas were clearly marked. And there was a surprising variety of them.
After you collect your supplies, here’s all you need to do:
Cut the beans in half and split each half down the middle. Throw the beans in the alcohol. Make sure all the beans are completely submerged in the alcohol. Store the jug in a cool, dark place. Shake it once a week or so. After 2 months (at least), bottle the vanilla in bottles of your choice.
At this point, you can do a couple of things:
- Add the beans to the individual bottles of extract to keep it seeping (and to make it a re-usable gift—the recipient just needs to add more alcohol at the midway point to keep making more extract as they use it).
- Dry out the used beans, stick them in some sugar, and create heavenly smelling vanilla sugar.
- Keep them in the jug you used to make the first batch of vanilla and add more alcohol to start over. You can do this 2-3 more times, as long as the beans still smell like vanilla.
Because it’s straight alcohol and vanilla beans, it should pretty much last forever.
Since I’m making some of this vanilla for gifts, I designed a label. I printed it out on both regular paper and kraft paper and will eventually tie raffia to bottle (which I forgot to do before I took the photos, sorry). If you’d like to use the same labels, you can download them here for free.
I figure the total cost is about $3.50 for a 4-oz bottle of homemade vanilla extract. I could have kept the cost lower if I would have recycled old bottles instead of buying new, but I loved these blue bottles and they’re going to be gifts so I splurged (they were just over a$1 each and I got them here).
When I re-use the beans, I’ll get another 1.75 liters of vanilla for $30 (the cost of the vodka)—that’s almost 7.5 cups, or almost 15 4-oz bottles like the one I paid $10.50 (on sale) for at the store. So, essentially, 15 bottles for the price of less than 3 on-sale bottles.
Pretty cool, huh?
Oh, and when you make vanilla extract, your whole kitchen will smell like Grandma’s homemade cookies in the oven for the rest of the day (minus the calories). How can you go wrong with that?
(And, PS, just because I like to keep things on the up and up, I want you to know none of the links in this post are affiliates for me. That means I WON’T make any money if you follow the link and buy something. They are just places I use, like and am passing long to you. Enjoy!)