I wish I had known much earlier in life how to make my own homemade Vanilla Extract. Two ingredients and time is all it takes. You will never have to buy vanilla extract again!
This stuff- once you make it lasts forever with a bit of topping up from time to time. Ina Garten's is 20 years old! You just top up the alcohol when you draw off some extract and periodically, like annually, replace a couple of the old beans with new ones. You can use the old beans by scraping the seeds into a recipe or making Vanilla Sugar. They don't have to go to waste.
Real Vanilla Extract is one ingredient that is worth splurging on. The artificial extract just doesn't hold a candle to the gentle, creaminess of the real thing.
And vanilla is often the flavour highlight on its own so you want it to be good. Baking is not inexpensive so by the time you have used up a lot of butter, sugar, flour, perhaps whipped cream you have a fair bit of money, not to mention time, in your creation.
Vanilla is one ingredient I wouldn't compromise on.
And now I learn that once your get your batch set up you can create a continuous supply!
So... start now if you want to have homemade vanilla extract in time for Christmas baking or gift giving!
If you get a late start but still want to gift some for the holidays you can put the mixture together in an attractive bottle and let them do the aging!
There are lots of recipes on line with varying degrees of detail and instruction. I gravitated to Ina Garten's recipe first but it is pretty vague... basically 12 vanilla beans to 3 cups of vodka. She talks about topping up the vodka and replacing the beans periodically in her 20 year old batch. She steeps hers for a month whereas most other recipes I saw said 6 months.
The ratios of beans to vodka seem to be about the same so I am going to assume the longer you steep it the richer it gets.
You can choose the amount you want to make but I think at least an 8oz batch makes sense.
If it needs to steep 1-6 months you don't want to wait all that time and then use up half of it in your Christmas baking. You need a big enough quantity that when you use some and top up the alcohol the vast majority of the extract is the fully steeped version. Or you will have a thin extract until it has some time to steep.
I decided to make 8 oz of extract for a couple of reasons.
~ when I saw the beans in the store I grabbed 2 vials and therefore had 4 beans which was the right proportion for 1 cup of extract;
~ The commercial extract bottle I have in my cupboard is 120 ml or about ½ cup. So by the time I am done with the commercial bottle my homemade extract will be ready. I plan to refill the commercial bottle with ½ cup of my homemade and then top up my homemade extract and let it sit again for a few months.
The general formula is 3-4 whole beans per 8 oz of vodka.
A Little Vanilla History and Why It Is So Expensive
Vanilla beans are the product of an orchid species and are the only edible component of an orchid species. The main strains used for vanilla beans are Bourbon, Tahitian, Mexican, Indonesian and Ugandan.
Mexico claims to be the original producer of Vanilla planifolia (also known as fragrans), which grew wild up to 20 degrees latitude North or South of the Equator. Many nations and islands used vanilla for fragrance and flavouring.
Cortes is credited with bringing Vanilla to Europe. Now vanilla is cultivated in many countries
What is the Difference in Beans?
Madagascar Bourbon beans seem to be the gold standard. Bourbon has nothing to do with the drink.... the reference is a carry over from when Madagascar, Reunion and Mauritius Islands were ruled by the Bourbon Kings of France.
Madagascar is described as rich and creamy, Mexican is a bit coarser and smoky ( I have used Mexican very successfully over the years so don't let that description scare you. It works fine in baking.) Tahitian is more floral with a cherry chocolate aspect. Indonesian is mild and well balanced and Ugandan is a bit earthier and has chocolate notes.
They are all considered to be high quality.
What's the Difference between Grade A and Grade B beans?
In short - the difference is the moisture content.
Grade A beans have a higher moisture content so the have a more diluted vanilla flavour but it transfers more readily to your dish. They are good for using in baking or sauces etc directly.
Grade B beans are drier and take longer for the extraction of flavour to take place. They may also be visually imperfect,
Vanilla extract is usually made using Madagascar Grade B beans.
Vodka is the most recommended alcohol because it is neutral. Others also suggest rum or bourbon makes an interesting, rich extract.
I have seen anything from 1 month to six months to 18 months. So... I think you could use some after a month but I would say plan on at least 4-6 months. All the 'old hand's at this rave about how much richer it gets in the 6-8-18 month range.
Easy peasy, keep it at room temperature, in a dark cupboard and shake periodically. So it would seem that if you put in a cupboard that you use then when you have to move it to get to your other cupboard contents your 'periodic shaking' is taken care of!
Make sure your beans are always submerged in the alcohol. If that means you have to cut them in half then it is not a problem. When you pour off some extract replace the same amount with your vodka or whatever alcohol you are using.
Freshen your mixture by replacing a couple of old beans with new ones every 12-18 months. You can use the old ones in other recipes of make Vanilla Sugar. Don't let them go to waste!
I wanted to publish this now in case you want to make some homemade vanilla extract for your Christmas baking or for gifting.
What a lovely gift for a foodie to receive ! Of course you will have to scale up the recipe!
This way you'll have a good 6-8 months to reach that richness everyone raves about! I will update the post with photos and comments as my extract ages!
How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract
~4 Vanilla beans split lengthwise and cut in half if needed in order to ensure they are submerged in your alcohol
~ I cup of Vodka
Submerge vanilla beans in the cup of vodka in a covered jar or bottle. Store at room temperature at least 1 month and preferably 6 months or more. The longer it sits the richer it will be.
Shake the extract periodically.
When ready to use draw off a portion of vanilla extract and replace the liquid with more vodka. Replace 1 or 2 old beans with new every 12-18 months. Ensure vanilla beans are always submerged in the alcohol.