September 22, 2011

Home Made Vanilla Extract

Fall has officially begun (according to the unseasonably cool weather I've had lately) and there is nothing so lovely as baking in the fall. Something that is critically important to a plethora of my favorite recipes is vanilla. I love cooking with vanilla beans, but they're not always right for baked goods.

For those fall favorites, you really need vanilla extract. Unfortunately, the fake stuff is, well, fake and the good stuff is frankly quite expensive. But I have a good solution for you- making your own! It's easy, inexpensive, and it tastes great (in your baked goods).

All you need is: vanilla beans, vodka, and a glass container. No joke. Well, those things and a good, sharp knife. I prefer to use amber glass bottles because I like the look, but you can use whatever glass bottle you like as long as it has a tight fitting cap.

What You'll Need:

3 vanilla beans
1 cup vodka (100 proof is ideal)
Glass container

The Process:

Slice your vanilla beans in half lengthwise. Put them into your bottle, cutting them in half if necessary to fit. Pour in your vodka and cap the bottle. Now put on your patient pants and wait. Give it a good shake once a week for about 2 months. Ideally, it should be stored in a dark place unless you used an amber glass bottle (sunlight is not good for it). After 2 months, it is ready to use and will last you for years if you top it off with a little more vodka after each use.

Vodka is typically used because it does not have a flavor that interferes with the flavor of the beans. However, you could use a rum if you want to have a little extra depth to your extract. I have a bottle of each, because vanilla rum extract (as I've dubbed it) doesn't work for all baked goods, but is really good in many cakes.

I originally made my first vanilla extract after stumbling upon vanilla beans at my local Penzys Spices last year (I love that place). I've since gone on to make nearly a hundred 4oz bottles to give away as favors at my upcoming wedding. I bought the beans in bulk online, which is the cheapest way to go about it. I've been shaking the bottles once a week by the box. I made them in advance so that they'd be ready to use by the wedding.

The ones I made for the wedding are a little different, though, because I didn't use vodka. I bought two large bottles of Everclear Pure Grain Alcohol 190 proof (still legal in my home state, of NJ) and cut it with distilled water to get the proof I wanted for the vanilla. What I ended up with was approximately 120 proof. By doing it this way, it was vastly cheaper for me to get the higher proof alcohol in the large quantity that I needed for all the wedding favors.

I honestly think using the PGA also provided a better result, but not in a significant way, and certainly not in a way that you would notice in use. Finding 100 proof vodka isn't very hard to do and it's cheap enough for making your own bottles or a few as gifts. Using the PGA was purely cost-effective for the large scale I needed for the wedding. I saved probably $75 using this method.

The bottles pictured are from SKS Bottling & Packaging. They have a ton of options, and shipped them to me really quickly. The labels on the wedding favors are ones I customized from My Own Labels. I made the hangtags myself.

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