Thursday, September 6, 2012

Vanilla Extract

I'd Wait A Million Years by The Grass Roots
Some things are just worth waiting for.  And some things are worth the splurge.  And some things are best made at home.  I'm thinking today's recipe belongs in all those categories.  Now, I'm not sure I'd truly wait a MILLION years for vanilla extract, but the sentiment is the same.  Thank you, Grass Roots, for singing about those "worth-waiting-for" things!

I hate to point this out but the holiday season is fast approaching!  Did making the type smaller make it easier to hear and cause less stress?  I hope so!  It's time to be thinking about what you're going to be baking/giving and maybe even begin stocking up on some of those ingredients.

Last year I made vanilla extract to give as Christmas gifts for some of my close friends who are foodies, like me, and appreciate the finer ingredients.  It's a great gift idea!  They seemed to really appreciate it!  So, this year, whether you want to give it as a gift or just have some for your own use, it's time to get it "brewing."    It needs to sit for at least 6 weeks.

I became aware that not all vanilla extracts are the same at about nine years of age.  A family trip to Arizona brought about an opportunity for my parents to take a short excursion to a Mexican border town.  They brought back all sorts of souvenirs - sombreros, sandals, jewelry, etc. - but the most lasting and memorable, for me, was the vanilla extract!  My mom urged us all to come take a sniff.  OOOHHH MY!  What a heavenly scent!  It was explained to me that the vanilla I was used to, while still smelling nice, was artificial.  This was the real stuff.  My mom made that bottle last for a long time!  Everything she baked with it smelled and tasted wonderful!

For a long time I thought you had to go to Mexico to get the real stuff!  Maybe, at one time, that was true, but that's not so today!  You can find it in some grocery stores or specialty gourmet stores - or you can make your own!

Vanilla beans can be difficult to find and, I'm warning you, they can be pretty expensive as well.  Did you know that vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron?  It's true!  It's because the growing of it is so labor-intensive.  Vanilla is often erroneously used as a metaphor for that which is bland or mundane.  Not so!  It's rather exotic, in fact!  The reason it seems so available and "ordinary" is that much of the vanilla extract out there is artificial.  It's flavored water, basically.  Read your labels closely.

Vanilla extract is one of those things that we use alot of when we're baking up a storm.  It can be the headliner act or a true team player, making just about everything else taste better!  I discovered last year just how easy it is to make your own.  The catch - you have to let it sit and let the alcohol coax the flavor out of those vanilla beans before it's ready to use.

I find my vanilla beans at Costco.  They carry them in vials like this - in a two-pack - around the holidays.  Keep an eye out for them and stock up - their price is quite reasonable.  Otherwise, unless you live in a large city, you can find them online.
You'll need bottles with stoppers if you're giving them as gifts.  For your own use, you can use a mason jar - or, to save your mason jars, just slide the split beans down inside the bottle of liquor!

Split the bean down the middle with a small sharp knife, leaving one end intact.  You can use the edge of the knife to scrape some of those tiny beans free and into the bottle as well.
 Get yourself some vodka and/or bourbon.  Vodka creates a more clear vanilla flavor.  Bourbon offers a more warm flavor.
 If the bottles you are using to store the vanilla extract have tiny openings, like this one, a little funnel is essential.

Just stick your vanilla beans down inside the bottle and fill with your liquor of choice.  This bottle holds  about 5 oz. and I used 2 vanilla beans.
After you fill the bottles with the beans and liquor, put the cap or cork in and give it a little shake.  Place it in a dark place but where you'll see it to remember to give it a shake a couple times a week until it's ready.  I keep mine at eye level in my pantry.  I see it and give it a shake!

 I made little tags to go on my bottles for gifts.  It lets them know whether I used vodka or bourbon.  Even if you don't get them made in time for use at Christmas, you can put instructions on the gift tag letting them know their vanilla will be ready in time for Valentine's Day!

Vanilla Extract
Vanilla Beans
Bourbon or Vodka

For a 5 oz. bottle I used 2 beans
For an 8 oz. bottle I used 3 beans
For a 14 oz. bottle I used 4 beans

Split vanilla beans open and place down inside of a bottle or jar.  Pour the liquor over top and fill to the top.  Cap off the container and give a little shake.  Keep in a dark place and remember to give it a shake a couple times a week. 

Vanilla extract will be ready to use in 6 - 8 weeks.


  1. Totally sweet excuse for my first opportunity to buy alcohol! How many times should one "taste test " the vanilla during the six weeks?

    1. LOL! Well, I just take the experts for their word on this one - and it worked great! However, you "test" as you deem necessary!