As a frequent baker, one thing I constantly go through is vanilla extract. And honey, let me tell you, that stuff ain’t cheap. At nearly $20 a bottle, it turns baking into quite an expensive hobby. But all that changed when I decided to take the leap and start making my own.
Vanilla beans are generally not too cheap on their own either, but a wonderful blog friend told me about a website called Beanilla that not only has great-priced vanilla beans, but they have lots of sales throughout the year too! I saved even more money by buying “Grade B” beans for the extract – they aren’t great for baking but they’re perfect for making extract.
To make your own extract, all you need is three things: vanilla beans, alcohol, and a container to put them in. It’s really that simple. I use Svedka vodka because it’s neutral, it’s relatively smooth (and it’s super cheap – about $16 for 1.75 liters), but you could use any type you like. You could also substitute bourbon, brandy, whiskey, or rum in place of the vodka depending on what type of flavor you’re looking for. Vodka will produce the most neutral flavor for you, closer to what you’re probably used to using, where the others will give you more depth of flavor.
The ratio is simple So, let’s say I buy my 25 vanilla beans for $16, then I add my vodka. You can use from 4 to 7 vanilla beans per 8 oz of alcohol. I used 5 or 6 (depending on the batch) and they came out great. Assuming I use 5 beans per batch, I will get 5 servings from my 25 beans – about $5.36 per 8 oz of vanilla extract. Which beats the pants off of my usual go-to brand… and that’s assuming I only use the beans for that batch.
You see, I haven’t even told you the best part yet. The best part about all of this is that when my reserve gets low, I can just top it off with more vodka and give it a quick shake – and voila! More extract! That gives me an almost infinite supply* 100% pure vanilla bean extract, no additives or chemicals. All from the comfort of my own home. (Yes, I realize eventually the strength will diminish and I will have to get new beans eventually, but until then…)
- 4 to 7 vanilla beans
- 8 oz vodka (or alcohol of your choice)
- 1 non-reactive container (see notes)
- Wash & sanitize your container.
- Place vanilla beans into said container.
- Cover beans with alcohol.
- Close and give it a shimmy-shake.
- Yes, it's seriously that easy.
- Place container in a cool dark place (like your pantry?) and give it a shake about once a week for 6 to 8 weeks, until the alcohol turns a gorgeous dark brown color.
- At this point you can either a> strain the beans out using cheesecloth and transfer to another container or b> keep vanilla beans in the container and top off with additional alcohol as needed. Once your extract begins to lighten in color, you will need to add fresh vanilla beans to the mixture. I have not yet encountered this situation.
- Use in place of regular vanilla extract.
To speed up the infusion process, you can chop your vanilla beans into smaller (1 to 2-inch) pieces.