Friday, November 26, 2010

Homemade Vanilla

No, she hasn't been in the vanilla.  She's just a bit odd.

Thrifty, but meaningful Christmas gift idea #1:  Homemade Vanilla Extract

Yummy and SO easy.

I actually shouldn't be posting this because I've given vanilla to friends and family as Christmas gifts and now they'll know that, even though it was a delicious and thoughtful gift which they loved, it really wasn't a whole lot of work on my part.

This Vanilla is not your usual grocery store variety of Pure Vanilla Extract and the only thing it shares in common with Imitation Vanilla Extract is the word "vanilla." (And the word "Extract" too, I guess, but it sounded so much better just having one word in common...)  By the way, did you know that "pure" vanilla extract sometimes has extra stuff like corn syrup in it?

No, the Vanilla I'm showing you how to make actually smells and tastes like vanilla.  It's just amazing!  You'll love what it does to your baking.

It is a useful gift, too.  Those who receive it, unless you give some to your college aged brother or something, will love using it to make those they love happy!  It's a gift which keeps on giving.  They won't ever have to dust it or decide if they should keep it or send it to the thrift store 5 years from now.  That's my kind of gift!

All you need to make Vanilla
 To top it all off, homemade vanilla is easy on the budget.  There are 2 ingredients in Homemade Vanilla Extract - vodka and vanilla beans. 

You don't need expensive vodka.  To be honest, I don't know if expensive vodka makes it taste better or not.  I've only used cheap vodka and have loved the results.  In fact, I've never actually paid for the vodka used in my vanilla.  Around the holidays, the liquor stores in our area all have vodka with manufacturer's rebates which make the vodka free!  A 1.75 litre bottle of vodka will make about 60 oz. of vanilla and costs less than $10.00 or $1.33 per 8 oz.  Pretty cheap!

I've now typed the word "vodka" 8 times in one paragraph.  Pretty sure this about 7 more times than I've ever typed that word before.  Don't tell my Grandma.  I'm not sure she'd understand.

Vanilla pods with ends cut off
I've bought all my vanilla beans off Ebay.  You can get anything on Ebay.  This year I bought 40 organic Madagascar vanilla beans for about 12 dollars including shipping.  They came from France, which was an added bonus because the Young'uns love seeing the French postage stamps.  From all I've read Madagascar beans are best for making extract, but if you want to do some research of your own, go for it.  Google is a good thing.  It takes 2 beans to make 8 oz. of vanilla.  So, the beans cost about 60 cents per 8 oz.
One word about vanilla...technically, you don't buy vanilla beans.  You buy vanilla pods.  They are long, thin, dark brown and wrinkly.  They should be a bit moist and flexible.  The vanilla beans are INSIDE of the pods.  If you cut open a pod, it is filled from top to bottom with very tiny little black dots - these are the seeds.  The seeds can be scraped out and used in your baking and cooking.  I like eating a little taste by itself.  I'm a sucker for vanilla anything!

Are you doing the math?  $1.33 (vodka) + .60 (vanilla beans) = $1.93 for 8 oz. of REAL Vanilla Extract.  This is a steal when compared to buying it in the store!

About 5 years ago, I bought 8 oz. amber colored glass bottles from the Sunburst Bottle Company.  I bought a few cases and gave Vanilla as gifts that year.  I also saved some of the bottles for myself and have reused them every year since.  The bottles cost about $1.75 each including shipping.  This seemed a bit steep for a bottle, but they looked great and made the gift!  Even with the bottle costs, each gift still cost under $4.00.

If your vanilla will be a gift for someone, make a cute or cool label (depending on if you lean towards the cute or cool side) to stick on your bottle.   I wish I still had a copy of the one I made on my computer.  I must say it was cool. I'm not real computer savvy.  So, you can make an awesome one, I'm sure.

Just making vanilla for you own personal use? You can make your vanilla in any old glass bottle you want.  An wine bottle or vinegar bottle that's been well cleaned will work!  Just make sure it has some sort of tight lid because there's some shaking involved.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

2 vanilla beans per 8 oz. of extract you wish to make
vodka (there's that word again)

Beans in the bottle

Cut ends of vanilla so that they fit into your bottles.  I usually have to cut off about 1 inch of the beans.  Place 2 beans in each bottle.  Fill bottles to near the top with vodka.  Place on the lid and let it sit in a cool, dark place for at least 4 months.  6 months is better.  Try to give your bottles a shake every few weeks.  (I told you it was easy.)

I have read about people who cut their beans into small pieces before they put them in the bottles.  This might make the vanilla permeate the vodka a bit more.  I'm not sure.  I don't do it because you'd have to strain your extract before using it if you did it this way.  Otherwise, there would be lots of little black vanilla beans in your extract. 

I leave my pods in the bottle even after I start using it.  When the bottle is empty, I put the pods on the counter to dry out and then stick them in a bag in my freezer.  After I've collected several pods, I stick 4 in a bottle and add some more vodka.  This gives me one more bottle of Vanilla without buying more pods.  Two soakings seems to be about all each pods can take.

This was a very long post for such a simple idea... Enjoy!


  1. Neat. Sounds like I'd better start next July for next Christmas. :-)

  2. I just ordered my supplies and am excited to make this. Thank you so much for your great ideas.