With all that holiday baking and homemade gift giving I’ll bet you ran through a fair bit of vanilla extract. Good news! If you start a new batch now it will be absolutely perfect for the 2015 holiday season.
Homemade vanilla extract is about as simple a DIY as you could hope for, and the results are indisputably better than store bought, but it’s not necessarily a money saver. There are two ingredients in real, homemade vanilla extract, vanilla beans and booze. Neither comes cheap.
So this is one of those projects where you have to weigh your budget against your desire to be a vanilla connoisseur and your concern that your vanilla extract might include beaver anal gland juice. (A highly unlikely proposition, thank goodness.)
DIY Vanilla Extract is typically made by soaking vanilla beans in vodka. This works just fine, but I found that I far preferred the flavor of vanilla extract made with mild bourbon. So, it’s up to you, but for a better vanilla, I recommend you infuse your beans in bourbon whiskey. You can also play around with mild rum or brandy if you like.
Confusingly, you’ll periodically see vanilla extract sold as “Bourbon Vanilla”. This does not mean that vanilla extract is made with bourbon whiskey. The most common of the three varieties of vanilla beans grown commercially is Vanilla planifolia, which goes by the common names Bourbon Vanilla and Madagascar Vanilla, after the islands in the Indian Ocean where it’s grown. Île Bourbon is now called Réunion but the Bourbon Vanilla moniker lives on. Now you know.
Step By Step
We’ll need just two ingredients for our homemade vanilla extract.
- Vanilla beans, and lots of them. I use 8 to 10 in a pint jar. Order on-line in bulk for the best prices. I used these beans.
- Booze. A mild, 80-proof, mid-range alcohol is your best bet. I used Jim Beam, my preferred bourbon base for infusions.
Slice each bean in half lengthwise. Some of the amazing little vanilla flecks may rub onto your knife or fingers. That’s fine, but don’t scrape down the inside of the bean. You want to leave those little seedy bits intact in the pod as much as possible.
Cram all your split beans into a pint jar. If the beans stick up over the top of the jar just fold them over or cut them in half.
Fill the jar with bourbon.
Seal your jar with an airtight lid and really crank the lid down. You don’t want your bourbon evaporating away. Label your vanilla and now stick it someplace dark and cool and forget about it for several months.
That’s it. In three months you can strain it, but I don’t. In six months it will be the best vanilla extract you’ve ever clapped tastebuds on and by next year’s holiday baking bender it will be transcendent. As you use it up, a teaspoon at a time, top it up with more bourbon. You can go on like this for some time, until you notice that the only thing flavoring your cookies is hooch. Then it’s time to start over.
Do you make your own vanilla extract?25
I made some vanilla extract a few years ago from those very beans and it was wonderful. I could not believe I had waited so long and worse, used substandard vanilla for so long! Like most things, I find, it’s far better to do it yourself. So glad to have you back posting… I missed you. You will let us know when your book is available for pre-order, right?
Thanks for your kind words! It’s nice to be back. 🙂 Writing the book was really lonely. I will definitely keep you guys posted about the book. I’m trying to walk that fine line between “OMG you guys, you guys, check it out, here’s another book update!” and, “Erica, shut up about the stupid book already, yo.” 🙂
I’ve started using powdered vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract – I find it makes for a better vanilla flavour. I use this one – http://www.amazon.com/Organic-Traditions-Powder-Vanilla-Ounce/dp/B00AVIV6R2/, and my first bag lasted me 3-4 years. I use about 1/3 the amount the recipe calls for in vanilla extract.
In some cases, the alcohol flavour is also nice in the finished dish. In those cases, I just add some rum (which I prefer to bourbon) as well. I don’t do that often.
Interesting, thanks for letting me know. Is that product dark brown/black like vanilla beans? I’ve used vanilla powder before but that’s like a lightly vanilla flavored sugar, it’s got to be a different product.
Yes, this one’s the same colour as vanilla beans – it’s nothing but the beans, ground up, with nothing added.
I’ve been thinking about making my own vanilla extract for years but just haven’t got around to it. Totally inspired and will give it a go this week. Thanks for the useful directions!
Awesome, have fun!
I first saw this done by my friend who is an Herbalist , I didn’t know what the heck it was. Extract!!! I just drop the beans in the bottle and give it a good shake once in a while ( I bake a lot so 1 liter of extract seems good to me) No muss or fuss and Amazing Vanilla Power. The ‘do it yourself’ life is so much more flavorful. Love it. I’m now exploring extracts and tinctures from the herbs in my garden.
A full liter of vanilla extract? That’s badass.
Thanks for the great post! I’m new to the world of vanilla beans. Do you feel Grade A beans create a better flavor extract compared to Grade B? Or is there another reason for the preference?
As far as I know, the primary difference between grade A and B vanilla is appearance and moisture content. Grade A should be basically perfect in appearance, longer and a bit more moist. This moisture makes the beans more supple, which makes scraping the seeds for situations like vanilla bean ice cream easier. Grade B will be less uniform, a bit smaller, and drier. Grade B are not inferior in flavor necessarilly, it’s more an appearance and moisture thing. Grade B Vanilla is sometimes called “extract grade” and is perfectly acceptable to use for this extract. The reason I used the beans I linked to (Grade A) is just price; I was able to buy the number of beans I needed to make this project (and several others; I was testing several “base” infusions with vanilla) for about $20, which was all I really wanted to spend. 🙂 If you are a real vanilla head, it’s probably worth it to shop around and find the best price on vanilla by the pound. There are about 100-120 Grade A beans per pound, and 140-160 Grade B beans per pound. Hope this helps.
Never thought about making my own vanilla before always just thought of it as an ingredient you buy. I don’t imbibe so don’t buy alcohol, but may have to make an exception to try this! interesting to see other types of alcohol people use.
The flavor really is a ton better than ever good commercial vanillas, and the world of imitation vanilla is so very odd, I like the DIY approach with this. I’ve never done it, but some people do glycerin infusions to avoid the alcohol.
I’ve made my own vanilla for years now. Yep, vodka is yummy but bourbon is my favorite. And double yep, steeping longer is better. I have baking friends I gift this to during the holidays and of course, always have a new bottle steeping! I order from Beanilla on line but thanks for the link to a new place.
Thanks for the tip about Beanilla!
I made my first batch from vodka a couple of years ago and it’s lovely now – I think I was light on the beans, so it took a while. I have a bottle of Jack Daniels Whisky that came from the work Christmas party lucky door prize. It’s been sitting in the cupboard because I don’t drink it – that would work well I assume?
I think the best possibly use for Jack Daniels would be to turn it into vanilla extract!
Nothing wrong with hooch-flavored cookies. 🙂 I did not know that so-called bourbon vanilla isn’t actually made with bourbon, either. I am excited to give this one a try, for actual bourbon vanilla!
I amused myself to no end by considering that I was making, “Bourbon Bourbon Vanilla.” But I’m a dork. 😀
Thank you! Every recipe for extract I see calls for steeping in vodka, which I can’t do (horrible allergic). I have some bourbon left from making Bourbon Apple Butter; this sounds like a perfect fate for it.
I rinsed off the beans I’d used making cajeta from my goat milk and threw them in a jar of sugar. Have been adding more sugar for about a year now and it still tastes vanilla-y. Very yummy in my coffee.
Vanilla sugar is so yummy!
Chris Anderson says
I still have beans in a zip lock bag tucked away in a cabinet from many years ago. At this point they are rock hard, but still smell good. Would you use the them? I hate to huck them since they were so dang expensive.
I would totally still use them for extract. Worst that will happen is your extract won’t be as full flavored and strong. Maybe use a few more beans if you are worried about it.
I use vanilla extract in everything, so I started making my own a couple of years ago after reading that the byproducts of paper manufacturing were used in artificial vanilla. I make it by the 1/2 gallon. Yes, that is a lot of beans and yes, that is a lot of booze, but wow, I love never running out! And after a couple of years I am just now going to be clearing out my jar to start a brand new batch. So, a good investment I would say!
Epic vanilla extract! Sounds wonderful.
So glad that I am reading this post before launching into this project. I was going to try with vodka but using bourbon sounds like an infinitely more exciting idea! Can’t wait to try. Is it ok to start using within a month? And then allow it to continue to steep as you continue “dipping” into it? Or just let it be without touching for three to six months?
Btw. I also ordered my beans fro Beanilla. 25 madagascar vanilla beans for $25. Not sure if they are grade a or b but either way they should work fine for extract.
It’s actually a good idea to dip in after about a month, because then you have a better idea of how the vanila is progressing. Taste/smell about every month and you can observe the progress. I think the vanilla improves and gets more complex with age, but it will still be good at a month.
Went to the Hawaiian Vanilla Company and learned that any alcohol can be used for vanilla extract. He said best to experiment to find what you like. Was a very interesting and informative tour and lunch. Said that good quality beans can make vanilla extract for up to 8 years. I currently have a batch made with brandy going in my pantry.
White Rum.. oh.. slurp! And Vodka.. it is the present that I make for all my Foodie Friends male and female ( nad me) and it is exactly as you described it.. delicious.
Glad to see you back again. You totally rocked my world of jam/preserve making. I no longer use any commercial pectin and I’m not afraid to experiment with different flavors. Your site gave me the confidence to try new methods.
We use the same vanilla bean supplier! (They also have an Ebay store which is where I discovered them.) I’ve been making my own vanilla about five years now. I bake frequently so I go through fairly significant amounts of vanilla. Initially I started making my own vanilla because of the reduced cost. Since then I discovered that the quality was so superior I’ll never go back to using commercial vanilla. I make 4/5 quart vanilla for myself and two more for friends and family every fall. I allow it to age one year. Making the extract at the same time every year I have plenty of vanilla and the batch for friends and family is ready to pass out for holiday baking.
I use Jim Beam in my christmas fruitcake. One year I got the bright idea to do Jim Beam vanilla extract and I really think it takes my fruitcake recipe over the top. I love the combination of vanilla and Jim Beam. I’m so glad to see you encouraging other liquors than just vodka.
Pat M says
I made some last year. I cut the ends off the beans and dropped them into a 750ml bottle of Bacardi Dark Rum; then I stuck all those ends into a mason jar of sugar to make Vanilla Sugar. The taste is amazing, and it actually comes out cheaper than buying the same volume of those itty-bitty bottles at the grocery store. (Yes, I did the math. I’m a geek too.)
Finally, finally going to make this. I’m getting together with a friend to make this one. She’s supplying the booze, I’m supplying the vanilla (and cookie ingredients to keep her husband and little girl busy). Nice little Christmas activity! Miss you lots Erica, hope all is well and that you come back to us soon.