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