I hate when stores start Christmas preparations as soon as back-to-school stuff is put away.
But if you want to make homemade vanilla extract as a lovely foodie Christmas gift, you’re going to have to start soon, especially if you want to take advantage of the exclusive coupon for readers from Olive Nation: use KS12A for 10% off all their products. Their vanilla beans are needed for this recipe (or check out their “vanilla caviar,” which is the seeds already scraped out for you). The code will be good through December 31, 2015, but vanilla making time is now.
Homemade vanilla extract takes 4-6 months to be completely finished, although you can start using it after only 4 weeks. It makes a lovely little gift in dark amber bottles (found on Amazon) with a personalized label, and it only will take about an hour total: 10 minutes to order supplies, 15 minutes to make the extract, a few seconds per day to shake jars, and another 10 minutes to fill and label your little bottles. Considering it costs about as much to make a half gallon of homemade vanilla extract as it does to buy 12 ounces or so of the good stuff in a store, you’re getting “paid” a pretty awesome hourly wage.
If that’s not enough motivation to make your own, read the ingredients on your bottle of vanilla. Chances are, unless you have a superbly excellent brand, there’s some weird additive or a corn sweetener in there (high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, etc.). Your vanilla will have two simple ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka. Done.
Homemade Vanilla Extract: The Recipe
Ingredients and supplies needed:
1/2 pound vanilla beans 1/2 gallon (1.75 liter) vodka, any inexpensive brand will do (or bourbon, or rum for gluten-free) sharp paring knife or kitchen scissors very clean 1/2 gallon jar with lid or two quart jars place to store little bottles(found on Amazon) (if making gifts)
The ratio of beans to alcohol according to this excellent tutorial is about 8 vanilla beans (1 ounce) for each cup vodka. A half gallon is 8 cups, so that will be your entire half pound (8 ounces) or about 64 beans. Honestly though, you can use a little less, up to half (32 beans), and still have excellent vanilla. Other sources used 32-40 beans per half gallon. UPDATE: commenters below use far fewer beans with great results! I say go frugal and use as few as possible…I’ve now tried the warmed up vodka and 1 bean per 2/3 cup alcohol from Dynomom in the comments. Frugal and faster. Oh, yes! You can also put your jars in the sun on warm days to speed up the extraction. Make sure your materials, especially the jar for extraction, is as clean as can be (running it through a dishwasher on hot with heated dry should do it). You don’t want to risk weird stuff growing in your vanilla, since it will be sitting at room temperature for perhaps years. To prepare the beans, you have 3 choices:
- Cut the beans lengthwise with a sharp paring knife and scrape out the seeds, using all of the parts in the alcohol.
- Snip the beans lengthwise and in half with clean kitchen scissors.
- Just snip the beans into smaller pieces so that they are totally immersed in the vodka and not sticking out the top.
Any of the methods work, but some believe that the more you open up the vanilla beans, the higher quality and flavor your finished product with have. I chose to take a few extra minutes and really pull everything apart:
Seeds and beans all go into the jar; cover with alcohol and shake well. Here’s what the concoction looks like on day one: On the left is about 2 cups bourbon with the beans, and the half gallon of vodka is quite unattractively on the right. I tried bourbon based on this recipe, although I’ve since learned that the fancy “bourbon vanilla extract” you can buy isn’t named after the alcohol but the type of vanilla beans. Both of them worked fine, and I ended up just mixing them together for storage after giving away the Christmas gifts. Most sources say to store the vanilla in a dark place, away from direct sunlight, while it’s extracting. I chose to put the jars in a low cupboard; some simply use brown bottles instead. Jodi actually put her little bottles IN direct sunlight, and the extract worked out just great, so it seems that this is a difficult recipe to mess up! Check out her beautiful photography of the process. For the first two weeks, try to remember to shake up your bottles or jars every day. After that, give them a good shake once a week (or whenever you bump into them in the cupboard). If you forget…it all still seems to work out. Lovely recipe, really. It won’t take long to see results. Here is my vodka jar on day two already: Yes, I should get those beans immersed. I cut them later on.
Where to Get Vanilla Extract Supplies
Here’s your one-stop shopping mall!
- Premium Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans – 1/2 lb. – Approx. 54 beans (enough for 1/2-3/4 gallons extract) from Olive Nation– Currently $29.95 AND we have an exclusive coupon for readers: Use the code KS12A for 10% off your order, good through 1/31/15!
- Of course check Amazon’s prices, too, as they fluctuate a lot and have been higher and lower than Olive Nation over the years.
- 1.75 liters vodka – your local grocery or liquor store.
- 2 and 4-ounce amber bottles: Specialty Bottle has great prices and decent shipping. Try to get a friend to go in on a dozen with you. Two ounces is very small (for acquaintances) and 4 ounces is more appropriate for people you love. 8 ounces for people you really love who bake a lot!
- They also sell gallon jars, if you’re looking for good storage solutions or an extra milk jar, but be aware that the shipping is approximately the same amount as the jars for that item.
- In case prices fluctuate here too, you can check out Amazon’s 2-ounce and 4-ounce amber bottles
- Labels – your local office supply – just make cute labels with a colored font using your word processing program. Simple, and nearly free.
- Sources for the recipe (I always find when I’m making something brand new, I like to read a number of different methods so I feel most comfortable doing it myself):
What do I do when it’s Finished?
After about 6 months (or 10 or so, if you’re forgetful like me), just strain out the beans and seeds and store your homemade vanilla extract back in the jars you’ve been keeping it in or pour into dark bottles for gifts. (Really anytime after 3-4 months, you can strain the beans or pour off little bottles for gifts.)
Between the second and sixth month, you can begin to use the extract and simply top off the jar with more vodka as you go, tossing in a few beans if you like as well. It’s not necessary to add vodka, but it extends the quantity of vanilla you can make.
You can also try a second extraction with the same beans, although it might take a little longer to get a nice amber color.
When you’ve used the beans as much as possible, you can still make vanilla sugar by covering the leftover (already used) beans with sugar, letting it sit and shaking it occasionally for a few weeks. The sugar will be lightly flavored with vanilla, perfect for coffees or homemade yogurt. (Try a healthier sweetener for your family, though – follow the Sweet, Sweet summer series for more!)
Ta-da! Now you’re ready for Christmas!
What’s your favorite vanilla recipe? Have you ever made homemade vanilla extract?
Other Homemade Gift Ideas
Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon and Olive Nation. The image of the vanilla flower is from Olive Nation. I am not affiliated in any way with Specialty Bottle or eBay seller Vanilla Products. See my full disclosure statement here.
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