4.21.2010

Homemade Vanilla Extract


I do a lot of baking with my kids and was fired up to come across Ina Garten's steps for making homemade vanilla extract in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. 
I had to give it a whirl!

The recipe calls for letting vanilla beans ferment in vodka.  The Contessa uses a dozen vanilla beans in a tall bottle, but alas, this girl could only afford 2 little old vanilla beans in which to conduct my experiment (if you want the details about whether this is cost-efficient or not, see the breakdown below!) 

You will need:
1/2 c (4 oz.) vodka
2 vanilla beans
Airtight jar or bottle
  • Using a Sharpie, write the date on the bottom of your bottle so you know when it will be done.
  • Split the vanilla beans before placing in the alcohol.
  • Shake the bottle vigorously every day for 30 days (and always shake before using).  After 1 month, your brew should be an adequate strength for use in recipes that call for vanilla extract.
  • When half the liquid is used, add more vodka to existing beans.  The beans need to be replaced when the vodka does not turn amber after a few days.  Bakers report that the same beans can be used for up to three years. The Contessa says "This "brew" can continue for years by just adding more vanilla beans and more vodka.  I've had mine stored on a shelf in the pantry for almost twenty years!"
  • After the extract is properly fermented, you can keep the beans in the extract or remove them and squeeze the seeds out for use in making vanilla sugar, vanilla ice cream or pretty much any dessert recipe by Martha Stewart!  (she always calls for scraping vanilla beans!)
The ingredients....
The Contessa does not specify what kind of vanilla beans or vodka she uses.  I did some research and discovered there are four kinds of beans used for vanilla extract as well as different kinds of alcohol.  As the taste of a cocktail is greatly influenced by the grade of alcohol you use, your extract will also taste better if you use quality alcohol.  You may want to experiment with different combinations of beans and alcohols to see what you like the best. 

Beans
Madagascar (you might see this kind of extract labeled as "Madagascar Bourbon") 
The majority of vanilla extracts on the market are made from this kind of bean.
Indonesian
Mexican
Tahitian

Alcohols
The higher-proof the alchol, the stronger the extract will be.  These different alcohols will vastly differ the taste of your end-product!
Vodka
Tequila
Brandy

Is it worth it to make your own vanilla extract?

I bought Nielsen-Massey beans, 2 beans for $7.49, at our favorite local grocery store (of course that's Roche Bros. for my MA friends!). You can find these same beans at Sur la Table. Other brands can be purchased on Amazon.com, about $7.24 for 5. Also, check out http://www.beanilla.com/ for their beans.

I used Absolut vodka, which we have in our liquor cabinet but don't use for cocktails (we're a Ketel One or Grey Goose crowd). Absolut is considered a mid-grade vodka (vs. premium) and has a decent flavor. Absolut is approximately $20/750 ml which equates to $6.40 per cup. This means for my experiment using 1/2 cup vodka and 2 vanilla beans, the total cost was $10.69 for a half cup (4 oz.)

Now, $10.69 seems like a lot for 4 ounces of vanilla extract - however - good quality pure vanilla extract is expensive to purchase! A premium vanilla extract that is sold at Sur la Table and other high-end baker-supply stores, Nielsen-Massey, costs $34.95/8oz ($17.48/4oz). Based on reviews I've read this extract has an excellent taste.

The pure vanilla extract that I have used for years is the McCormick brand: $10.70/4 oz. After doing a little taste test with the McCormick extract vs. my homemade extract - WOW! I couldn't believe the difference in taste. The McCormick was actually VILE to taste on the tip of my finger, whereas the homemade stuff is so delicious you might consider pouring it into a martini glass right then and there. 
(My co-conspirator-friend B and I nearly did this very thing but restrained ourselves for the sake of the experiment.  )

In addition to the homemade version tasting better than a comparably-priced vanilla extract, I can re-use the beans for up to 3 years and therefore just incur the expense of replacing the vodka so
it is, in fact, less expensive to make your own AND it tastes better!

And....one more fun and tasty idea!

If you'd like to pop open your fermenting bottle of vanilla-infused vodka after two weeks and make a cocktail, by all means do so! You can always replace the vodka and let the fermentation continue for your vanilla extract. I'm not even a martini fan, but throughout the fermentation process I did taste tests with the tip of my finger and I'd have to say it was QUITE delicious after only a week or two. I haven't tried this recipe for Vanilla Martinis from foodnetwork.com but it looks yummy, especially if you use your homemade vanilla vodka!
I might have to make a batch of these for a girl's night out!

Later this week I'll show you how I made bottles of vanilla extract with my kids and wrapped them up as Mother's Day gifts for my mother and mother-in-law
(shhh, don't tell them)!

11 comments:

Amelia@MyTwoRedheads said...

This is a great idea, I'm going to have to try it! Thanks!

Sandy said...

Yummy! Good job, girl. Would make great gifts!

B said...

oh boy...i didn't know I should be shaking the vanilla on a regular basis. I made this and used Kettle One (please don't tell the hubby how the end of his bottle was used!) I wonder how much of a difference the shaking adds,,, we will have to do a taste test soon --I sarted mine on March 1.

Great gift idea!

Ashlee said...

I read that if you leave it on a shelf you look at a lot you'll remember to give it a little swirl every so often! I've been wanting to do this for year... Maybe this year is the year.

Jen S. said...

I heard about making your own vanilla about 6 months ago and still haven't done it!! Thanks for all this great info, and the printable labels too!

Jess said...

Just found you from brown paper packages. I love this idea. I use a lot of vanilla and it frustrates me that it comes in such dinky (and expensive) bottles. It seems that I am always out of it.
Going to try this directly and be making it for Christmas gifts.

Midwestern Gone Idahoan said...

Thanks!!! I can't wait to try it!!! And I am going to feature this on my blog!!!

Thanks!!

Ann said...

hey Lis! We actually made this as a token gift for my sister's bridal shower...and that was 13 years ago! Great idea!

Anonymous said...

I would like to exchange links with your site shineyourlight-lisa.blogspot.com
Is this possible?

Anonymous said...

Do not usually post on blogs, but I would like to post it really forced me to not be so! very nice post.

Anonymous said...

Nice one, might come in handy in the near future