Vanilla extract is one of my favorite additions to recipes year round, but especially during the cozy seasons. I use it in everything such as pancakes, muffins and pies, and pumpkin recipes. High quality store bought vanilla extract can be very pricey, but thankfully with little effort and lots of patience, you can makes delicious high quality vanilla at home for a fraction of the cost.
The gross truth is that many cheaper artificial vanilla extracts from the store contain "natural flavoring", which is a very perfumy way of saying castoreum ie secretions from the rear end of a beaver. I'll give you a moment to recover from that.
The good news is that we can make a large amount of beaver free scrumptious vanilla extract, that will store for a long time in the cupboard, right in the coziness of your home.
What you will need :
Glass jars 8-16oz
I like the swing top glass jars from amazon https://amzn.to/3nLMQHU
(I use the 16oz but 8oz jars will brew you a stronger extract - both come out delicious)
Of course, you could use whatever glass jars you have already have in your pantry and that should work just fine. Just remember that it is important to have a lid that will give you a tight seal.
Some grocery stores will carry packs of vanilla beans in their spice aisle. You can also find all types of vanilla beans online. Vanilla beans labeled 'Grade B' are specifically sold for the purposes of making extracts. I have made vanilla with both Grade A and Grade B vanilla beans and both will come out delicious. When searching for vanilla beans, you may come across three different types that are most commonly used:
Tahitian – commonly used for extracts and have a rich vanilla flavor
Mexican Vanilla – this one is the most unique with a deeper and almost smoky flavor
Madagascar Vanilla – this one will remind you of a really good vanilla ice cream with is rich creamy and smooth flavor
I recently use these Tahitian beans https://amzn.to/3pXmeWT and they were a wonderful quality of plump and aromatically pleasing vanilla goodness. They come in a 10 pack and were perfect for making 2 bottles of vanilla. (5 in each bottle)
70-100 proof alcohol
You will need an inexpensive bottle of 80 proof alcohol. Vodka is most commonly used, but you can use brandy, rum, or bourbon as well. The cheap stuff is just fine, as all your flavors will be coming from the quality of the vanilla beans not the alcohol. The only alcohol I would tell you to avoid is any type of flavored vodka, as the artificial flavoring will compete with the vanilla and could ruin your batch.
*When you add the vanilla extract to your cooking, the alcohol will evaporate off during the baking process.
The only other things you will need is a knife to slice the vanilla beans open, a funnel for pouring the alcohol into your jars, and lots of patience to wait for your extract to be done.
The Process :
You will want to start with clean surfaces and sterilized jars (I have admittedly done this without sterilizing the jars and it was fine but official guidelines highly encourage it) Some people will also rinse the vanilla beans in very hot water before slicing them open. Do what you are comfortable with when it comes to sanitization and use wisdom. If your jars are new, I do recommend washing them it hot soapy water and allowing them to air dry before using them for the first time. Other sterilization processes include boiling your jars for 5 mins, high heat wash in the dishwasher, or placing them in a 120 degree oven evenly spaced for 15 mins. If your jars include any plastic pieces, I do not recommend boiling those or putting them into a hot oven.
Slice your vanilla beans down the center, exposing the seeds. Do not forget this step, as this is what helps develop the rich flavor of your vanilla extract.
Place your vanilla beans into your 8-16oz glass jar of your choosing. Again, an 8oz jar with produce a darker richer extract.
Place your funnel into your jar, and pour your alcohol into your glass jar so that it just covers your vanilla beans. The alcohol pulls out the flavor in the vanilla beans, but also works as a preservative to prevent mold or bad bacterial growth, and so you want to make sure your vanilla beans are submerged.
Put your lid on securely and give your bottle(s) a few good shakes. Store your bottles in a safe spot away from direct sunlight. You are going to want to give your jars a shake once a week or once every couple of weeks.
Here is the tough part when starting out. The wait. For really good vanilla extract, you are going to want to let your extract sit for 6 month (some people wait up to a year or more). Technically, this extract is ready to use in 8 weeks, but if you want that amazing flavor, I would wait a minimum of 4 months. The good news is that once you get into the swing of this, you can always be making more and so once the initial first time wait is over, you will hopefully never have to wait for delicious homemade vanilla again.
When your extract is finished brewing, remove your beans from the bottle, and transfer your finished extract into the bottle of your choosing for easy pouring. You can use the same amount of extract in your recipes that you would with the store bought kind. Label and enjoy.
*You will know when the vanilla is ready because your extract will smell very much like vanilla and very little like alcohol*