Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Anyone that knows me knows that I love love LOVE vanilla. I love using vanilla extract and vanilla beans in baking. I think it adds the most wonderful flavor to cookies, cakes, frostings, puddings, etc. It is a sin to bake with margarine just as it is a sin to bake with imitation vanilla. Not only does imitation vanilla have man-made chemicals in it, but it tastes chemically, too. Homemade extract tastes amazing and it's not too expensive to make yourself. It also makes for cute gifts for birthdays, Christmas, etc. I think homemade vanilla also looks awesome, too. There's just something domestic looking about a cute jar with vanilla beans.

So here's a little bit about vanilla beans. Vanilla beans come in grades. Grade B and C are usually ones that are stiff, cracked or split. Grade A beans have a high moisture content and are greater than 6 inches in length. Grade A (also known as gourmet beans) also have the best vanilla flavor because of the moisture content and natural oils. It was hard to find grade A beans for a decent price, but then I found this awesome company, Beanilla. They sell many varities of  gourmet vanilla beans. I have purchased from them several times and their customer service is impeccable. They are such a great company.

The variety that I use the most in baking is Madagascar beans because they have the most versatile flavor. They taste rich and creamy with a slight buttery undertone. Once you get more accustomed to using vanilla beans and making extracts, you can move into the other varieties like Indonesian, Mexican and Tahitian beans. I also use vodka in my extract because it doesn't add any additional flavors. You can also use rum or brandy or any other 35% + proof alcohol. Rum is also nice as an extract base as it adds a yummy warmth to certain recipes. If you don't want to make your own extract, Costco's Kirkland brand of pure vanilla extract is delicious and it's reasonably priced compared to grocery stores. Just promise that you'll stop using imitation vanilla if it's in your kitchen. :)

I also got the cute glass jars from Beanilla and also from The Container Store. I love making my extract into 4 oz. bottles because they are the perfect size for gifting. You can also make one large bottle of extract, just make sure you use a 5:1 (5 beans to 1 C liquid) bean-to-alcohol ratio for optimal flavor and strength.

Here's what you need:
-8 oz vodka (I used Skyy because it was on sale)
-5 Madagascar vanilla beans, whole
-(2) 4 oz. glass bottle with a cork

1. Take a sharp knife and cut your vanilla bean in half length-wise leaving about 1/2 inch intact at the top. You can slice it completely in the middle or just break through the top layer. Do NOT scrape out the beans.

2. Place 2 1/2 vanilla beans in each glass jar and cover with vodka.

Extract just after pouring

Left: Extract just poured, Right: Extract after 1 hr.

3. Store in a cool dark place for 6-8 weeks. The longer it sits, the more intense the flavor. About every 2 weeks give each bottle a gentle shake.

Steeped for over 12 weeks. Yum!

 4. Once vanilla is done steeping, use it as you normally would use extract in baking.The longer it steeps, the richer the color and flavor. Once your bottle is near empty, refill again with vodka and steep again for at least 6-8 weeks.  You can do this several times. You get get lots of uses out of the vanilla beans.

Add a cute tag and some bakers' twine and you have a darling homemade gift!

Homemade vanilla gifts.

Once you feel that the vanilla isn't as strong then replace the vanilla beans. You can take the old vanilla beans, dry them off and add to a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar.

Enjoy and Happy Baking!

Here's the printable recipe.

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