If you have any bakers in your life, consider giving them a bottle of homemade vanilla extract for the holidays this year. Most bakers invest in pure vanilla extract for their baked goods, knowing its flavor is far superior to less-expensive imitation extract. However, homemade vanilla extract even puts store-bought pure extract to shame. It’s just pure, clean vanilla, void of any high-fructose corn syrup or other sweeteners that store-bought extracts rely on.
Making homemade extract may sound intimidating, but it’s really a simple process. Take vanilla beans and alcohol (vodka or rum), combine, and let it sit at room temperature. I’m bringing this up now because although it’s not difficult or time consuming to make, it does require about six months to age and develop the flavor. So if you plan to gift it for the holidays, start the process now.
I actually learned about this from my friend Diane, who created vanilla-themed gift baskets for the ladies in her family last year. She bought vanilla beans in bulk on Amazon and made several batches of extract; she had a few beans left over, so she made vanilla sugar as well.
(Note: After six months, your extract will be darker than the photo above depicts. My batch is about six months old, but I’ve used a bit of it and replenished it with some extra rum. I also took the photo against the light, so you can see the vanilla beans inside. If you looked at it in normal lighting, it would be much darker but you would be unable to see the beans.)
Homemade Vanilla Extract
1 (750 ml) bottle of vodka or gold rum (I used rum because I thought the sugarcane flavor was a nice compliment to the vanilla without being overly sweet)
9-10 vanilla beans, split lengthwise but not scraped
If you have a full six months to work with or are just making this for yourself, simply pour off an ounce or two (save it for a cocktail!) of the vodka or rum from the bottle. Stick all the beans directly in the vodka or rum remaining in the bottle and replace the cap. Shake the bottle a couple of times a week to help extract the flavor. Some say to store it in a cool, dark place, but I left it on the back of one of my kitchen counters so I’d remember to tend to it throughout the six months. You can start to use the extract in about four months; when you’ve used about ¼ of the bottle, simply top it off with more vodka or rum. It’s a gift that keeps on giving!
If you have less than six months (like if you would be giving it for the holidays this year) and are planning to split the batch among several smaller bottles, start the extract in the bottles you will be giving them. Using a ratio of 3 vanilla beans for every cup of vodka or rum, place the vanilla beans in the empty bottles. Top with the vodka or rum, leaving a little empty room at the top to allow you to shake the extract (you’ll still need to do this a few times a week). Continue with the process above.