Monday, February 16, 2015

DIY Vanilla Extract

A few years ago, I posted about making my own extracts - it was my first time doing so, and true to form, I went a little overboard and made five different types of extracts - lavender, rose, and hibiscus in addition to the more traditional cinnamon and vanilla. I got fantastic flavors from all the herbs and spices, but I never really managed to incorporate most of the extracts into my cooking or baking. I once added the lavender extract to a lemon-lavender icebox pie, and the cinnamon gets tossed into various experimental batches of cookies, but it's only the vanilla I use with any true regularity. As a result, my original bottle was getting dangerously low - so I decided to rectify the situation and whip up a new batch of homemade vanilla extract.

It's crazy easy to make your own extract, and is ultimately a whole lot cheaper than buying the pre-made. You'll need a bottle (preferably glass), 1-2 vanilla beans, and enough vodka to fill the bottle. It's perfectly fine to use cheap vodka for this project, so save yourself some cash and pick up some Fleishman's or Smirnoff (or whatever is comparable in your area). I found my vanilla beans at a nearby spice shop, but if you can't find them locally I'm pretty sure that many major grocery stores do keep them in stock.

I tend to stick to a 10:1 ratio - for every one vanilla bean, I need about 10 oz. of vodka. This isn't an exact science, but more beans with less liquid will result in a stronger and more flavorful extract (the bottle I used is 17 oz., so I used two whole beans)

Using a sharp nice, cut a long lengthwise slit down the center of each vanilla bean. Be careful not to split the bean into two separate pieces - you just need a deep enough cut to let the tiny seeds infiltrate the vodka.

Place the beans into the bottle, fill up the bottle with vodka, cap tightly, and store in your pantry/spice rack/wherever you keep things of this nature for at least three weeks and up to two years. You can use the extract as soon as the liquid in the bottle turns to an amber/golden color, but I like to wait a little longer to start using my vanilla - the flavor intensifies and becomes much more robust over time, and there's nothing quite like an apple or cherry pie made with real vanilla extract that's been aged for nearly a year.

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