If you love to cook and bake you probably use a lot of vanilla. When I started cooking more at home I was surprised at how much vanilla I used and how expensive it really is. Pure vanilla extract will usually run you a little over $4 for 2 oz. I snapped this picture at Target and you can see that it’s $4.19 there.
You can always go the cheaper route and buy a store brand but you end up with ingredients that are not normally in pure vanilla extract, like water and corn syrup.
Several years ago I decided I wanted to learn how to make it myself. When my Nana (who was fond of her daily nightcap) died and we found a huge bottle of vodka in her liquor cabinet I knew it was the perfect time to give it a try. I haven’t purchased store bought vanilla since! It’s so easy, tastes great, and is less expensive. I’ve been wanting to make them for Christmas goodies but I haven’t done it before now because you have to plan ahead since the beans have to soak for a while. Well, this is the year. I finally planned ahead.
All you need is some sort of glass container with a seal, alcohol, and vanilla beans. You can use any type of glass container – small mason jars work fine or you can purchase all sorts of cute glass bottles at craft stores. For the alcohol, you can use vodka, rum, bourbon or brandy. It doesn’t have to be pricey. For these I used an inexpensive bottle of Smirnoff. It was about $15 for a huge bottle. Vanilla beans can be purchased at your local health food store or on-line. I ordered mine from beanilla.com. You can also purchase them on Amazon. Vanilla beans are a little more expensive if you are not buying them in bulk. I ordered 25 beans for $22.75.
I bought my jars at Hobby Lobby. They were regularly $2.99 each but I bought them when they were 50% off. The pen and labels were $3.49 and $3.99 respectively, but I bought them with 40% off coupons. So, the total for each bottle of vanilla (including the bottle, label, pen, vanilla beans, and vodka) came out to $7.60 for 8 oz. (Compared to over $16 for 8 oz store bought.) Obviously, if you are making it for yourself you can skip the labels and save a little money. However, if you are only making one bottle of vanilla the cost will be a little more because you won’t be buying in bulk, but it’s still less expensive than store bought brands.
To prepare the vanilla beans you will cut a slit down the middle (from end to end) and use your fingers to open them up. You want all the little seeds to be able to come out and flavor that alcohol! Your fingers are going to smell SO good.
Using a funnel, fill the glass bottle with 8 oz. of alcohol (about 1 cup). Drop in the opened up vanilla beans. (The longer you are planning to let the vanilla sit, the less beans you can get away with using. I usually use 3-4 beans for 8 oz. of vodka. But for these I used five.) Tightly put the lids back on.
I used some chalkboard labels and a chalk pen to label the bottles.
Let the vanilla extract sit for about 2-3 months. The longer it sits, the more flavorful it will be. You can tell when it’s ready. They will be a nice deep brown color and smell delicious!
If you can remember, give it a good shake every week or so. I never remember to do this and it still turns out fine. If you aren’t letting them sit for very long definitely remember to shake it regularly though.
Here’s the really good news…you can reuse the vanilla beans once your extract is all used up. Just refill the jar with alcohol and let it sit another few months. The longer the beans are used the less flavor they will add but it will still work. You may just have to let it sit a little longer before it’s ready to use. I always have at least two bottles going at a time so I never have to wait for it to be done. At some point you will need to replace the beans but they can be used at least another time or two.
UPDATE, 12/9/15 – 2 1/2 months later…
Once your vanilla is done, here are a few yummy recipes you can make using your new stash!