Vanilla is such an important ingredient. It goes into pretty much every dessert I make, and lately I’ve started putting a capful in my morning coffee, too. Sometimes when I’m baking, the worst thing happens. I suddenly realize there are only three drops of vanilla left in my little bottle. This has been happening all too frequently since I developed my vanilla cafe au lait habit, so I decided to put an end to my vanilla extract shortages for good. I got the idea to make my own vanilla extract from this post on Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes.
All you need are some cute little bottles (I used these), vanilla beans (I got these Madagascar beans), and some vodka. It doesn’t have to be high quality vodka–the quality of the beans is much more important. Vanilla beans are expensive, but more reasonable if you buy a bunch of them. Also, vanilla extract is expensive, so I think if you use enough of it you’ll definitely save money by making your own. If you don’t want to make all the beans you buy into extract, you can store some in an airtight container to use in baking or custards. A lot of desserts call for vanilla bean seeds instead of extract, so it’s great to have some around. As soon as I get my ice cream maker, I am going to use my leftover beans to make vanilla bean ice cream with those great little specks of vanilla seeds in it.
Guess what? This vanilla extract would make a great gift, and is a gift that keeps on giving. If you start running low, just top off the vodka and let it sit for a few weeks before using it again. After doing this a couple of times, you will probably want to add some new beans. Ina Garten says she’s been doing this to refresh the same bottle of vanilla that’s been in her pantry for twenty years!
Vanilla beans (6 beans per cup of vodka)
Make sure your bottles are really clean. I sterilized mine by boiling them in water for ten minutes. Let them dry completely (I put mine in the dishwasher top rack to dry).
Cut each vanilla bean in half lengthwise, and then crosswise to fit in your bottles if you’re using small ones like me. I used three beans for each of my four-ounce bottles. Pour in vodka, leaving a little bit of space at the top (if you can find a funnel, you won’t make as much of a mess as I did). Store in a cool, dark place, and shake every day or so. The extract will be ready after two months, but continues to develop a more pronounced flavor if aged longer.
I made my labels in Microsoft Word, printed them on regular paper, and stuck them on with a permanent glue stick. I can’t figure out how to post the document up here for you to download, but if you want these labels, drop me a note with your email address and I’ll send them to you.