Just spent too much on vanilla extract. Looking at the ingredients, it can't be that hard to make. Anyone have experience with this?
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I put half of a vanilla bean pod in a little jar of vodka (maybe 1/2 a cup?) and let it sit for about 6 weeks - happy with the results. I think I got the instructions from the Christmas issue of Food and Wine.
I made this last year and gave out bottles of homemade organic Tahitian vanilla extract ("made with love...and vodka") for Christmas. I don't have the recipe to hand, but it was from CI. I bought vanilla beans on the internet (Google search), split them and warmed them in a pot of vodka. Poured liquid and beans into the empty vodka bottle and let it sit in the closet for a couple of weeks. I bought little brown bottles via the internet (LMK if you want me to look up sources for beans/bottles) and designed labels in MSWord that I printed at home. So easy, a novel gift, and something just about everybody uses!
It's quite easy--just soak whole vanilla beans in a bottle of plain vodka for about 2-3 months. Keep in mind that the quality of your vanilla extract is directly related to the freshness and quality of your vanilla beans. I use Madagascar and always look for the freshest ones I can find (you can tell by how flexible and moist they are, as opposed to dried-up looking and brittle). Your extract will be stronger or weaker depending on your ratio of vanilla beans to vodka. You want to make sure the vanilla beans are completely submerged, so I usually go for a fifth of vodka and about 4 vanilla beans or more. Also, don't let it soak where the sun will hit it or you'll start to a get a sort of sun-tea thing going that seems to change the extract (yes, this is experience talking).
This is expensive and time-consuming too, though, so unless I'm doing something special (homemade mosquito-repellent), I usually just buy good vanilla extract at the store.
With all due respect to Syronai, who has good advice, I didn't find it more expensive to make than to buy vanilla extract - quite the opposite! And as for time-consuming, yes, you have to wait a few weeks for the beans to fully infuse, but the prep time is minimal. Warming the vodka first (gently, so it doesn't end up as an entry in the "set it on fire" contest!) must help speed the infusing process along.
Vodka is what's always recommended, but I made mine with rum. Filled a pint jar with 6 vanilla pods, covered with the alcohol, and let steep a long time.
At the resort where I taught cooking classes last summer, we had a huge bottle of good brandy with all the spent vanilla bean pods from the bakery soaking in it - probably a few dozen or more. Best vanilla I've ever tasted. That, and a jar I brought back from Mexico.
Pricing to buy or make vanilla extract yourself is going to vary, depending on where you are and the cost for the ingredients in that area. I've looked at the cost to make it and by the time I added up the beans and vodka, it wasn't worth it to me to do it myself.
What was better, was finding a bulk food store that sells pure vanilla extract by weight... much better than buying it at the grocery store. I just take in my bottle and get it filled as needed. If there are bulk stores where you live find out if they do/can carry vanilla extract.
I'm with Burnt Offerings & Julia Child who say to use good brandy. I love it because it gives a nice rounded sweetness that you don't get if you use vodka.
Brandy and rum both sound good. I use Bourbon.
Pricing varies quite a bit depending on your ingredients. It's more expensive for me because I'm gluten-free and like to use upper-end potato vodka for mine, instead of the cheaper, grain vodka. As WinnieAb suggests, I've also done it with rum. That turns out well too, with a slightly different flavor to it. Dark rum is a great thing to use if you're looking for something more exciting.
Speaking of more exciting, try these combinations for a new take on "vanilla" extract. (I make my own bitters and really love soaking things in alcohol!) The possibilities are endless.
- 4 vanilla beans, 4 4-in strips of orange peel, 5 whole cloves
- 4 vanilla beans, 3 4-in strips of lemon peel, 10 whole allspice
- 4 vanilla beans, 4 4-in strips of orange peel, seeds from 5 green cardamom pods, 1 star anise (add these spices about 2 weeks before you're ready to be done or they'll get too strong)
- 4 vanilla beans, 1/4 cup dried tart cherries, 5 whole allspice
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Syronai, thank you for posting all those variations! (Your vanilla extract collection looks a bit like my ratafia collection, by the way.) How much vodka do you use for the quantities of flavoring agents you've listed? Thank you so much. ;o)
@AntoniaJames: For those amounts, I'd use a fifth of Vodka as I suggested in my first comment. Usually, when I make something more exciting, I'll try it out in a much smaller jar first, but tall enough to completely cover a vanilla bean. My guess on that amount would be closer to 200ml, dividing ingredients by about 4 (i.e. 1 vanilla bean, 1 orange peel, 2 cloves). Sorry; this is something I do in estimates. Your ratafia collection must be incredible!
If there is a Mexican market nearby, look for bottles of Mexican vanilla. It's inexpensive and tastes just fine. I have a 250 ml bottle (about 8 oz) that cost about $6.