Homemade Vanilla Extract

I apologize for the long pause on my blog.  We’ve been busy finishing up our summer travels and beginning our homeschooling adventure this year!  It’s always hard for me (and my kids!) to get into a new routine, but I think we’re getting there.  🙂

In any case, it’s almost officially fall by the calendar and by the weather.  In my house, fall means long walks in the cool breeze, admiring the changing leaves, drinking apple cider (or the closest I can get to it here in West Texas), and baking.  And, baking means vanilla extract!  So, today I wanted to share with you my Ina Garten inspired recipe for homemade vanilla extract.

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Materials/Ingredients

Vanilla Beans

100 Proof Vodka (or Bourbon)

Glass bottle with cork/cap (can be the same bottle your vodka/bourbon came in…but you will need to remove some of the alcohol)

Preparation and Use

1.  Stuff your glass bottle full of vanilla beans.  I usually buy Premium Madagascar Vanilla Beans 1/4 lb (26-30 beans) JR Mushrooms Brand from Amazon.

2.  Pour the alcohol over the vanilla beans.  I’ve found that 100 proof alcohol does the best job of extracting the vanilla from un-cut vanilla beans.  However, I’ve gotten 80 proof alcohol to do well if I slice 2 or 3 of the vanilla beans before placing them in the jar and pouring the alcohol over them.

3.  Cork the mixture and let it sit for a month or longer before using.  The extract can sit at room temperature indefinitely.

4.  After the mixture has incubated for a month, simply pour the liquid (aka your homemade vanilla extract) off of the beans and into a new/clean/dry bottle for your baking adventures.

5.  Then, you can simply start over at step 2, pouring more alcohol over the same vanilla beans and starting a new brew!

I have been making my own vanilla extract for about 4 years now, baking a lot along the way, and have only replaced the vanilla beans once in that time.  I realized that my vanilla extract was starting to become lighter in color and smelling less like vanilla, leading me to believe that I’d sucked the life out of my first batch of vanilla beans.  So, that was when I decided to replace my beans.  In my personal setup, I have a three 500-750 mL bottles that I rotate, so that I have a fairly new brew (a day to a month old…fresh off of step 1-2 of this process), a middle aged brew (a month to 6 months old…in step 3 of this process), and an old brew (a year or so old that I’m getting close to pouring off…close to step 4 of this process).  This setup has worked well for me with my frequency of baking.  If your baking routine is less frequent than mine, a two bottle rotation may work fine for you.  If your baking routine is more frequent, a four bottle rotation may be a better idea OR you could opt for a 3 bottle rotation with larger bottles (like 1L).

Science

Commercial vanilla is prepared by a process call extraction, hence the name vanilla “extract.”  Most of the time, commercial vanilla extract is prepared as follows: vanilla beans are ground, place in vats of an alcohol/water mixture, heated (by some manufacturers but not by others), and stirred for about 48 hours.  The beans are then filtered off and the resulting extract is aged for 60 or more days.  You can read about the process more here.  A few manufacturers extract vanilla using a more complicated process called supercritical fluid extraction.  Homemade vanilla extract is prepared in a very similar fashion to the extraction process I’ve described here with a few exceptions.  First, you will not need to grind your beans.  There are a number of benefits to this; one of which is that you’ll have vanilla beans to use for baking if you wish.  Also, you can select the flavor, quality, and origin of your beans and alcohol.  Second, you will not need to heat your brew.  The benefit here is that you will help to preserve the delicate flavor of the vanilla beans.  Lastly, you combine the incubation/aging steps into a duration of 6 months (or more) as compared to 62 days commercially.  The benefit here is a richer, stronger vanilla flavor in your finished product.

Budget

The homemade vanilla extract presented here costs about $15 for 16.9 ounces ($0.89 per ounce).  The cost breakdown was $8-10 for 1 liter (33.8 ounces) of alcohol and $20 for 1/4 pound of vanilla beans.  The Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract usually costs around $20 for 8 ounces ($2.50 per ounce).  So, you’ll see significant savings in your first batch, which are then just multiplied as you make subsequent brews with the same beans!  Have I mentioned that this makes a great gift, too?!  It’s the perfect time to get a brew started for some homemade Christmas gifts!

In any case, I hope you love this vanilla extract as much as we do!  Happy Extracting, Baking, and/or Gifting!

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