How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract
Throw out your old grocery store vanilla and head to the liquor store. I've been making my own vanilla flavoring for years. It's cheaper and tastes much better than anything you can buy. It also makes for a wonderful homemade gift that will keep your friends asking for more each year.
The process is very simple and while it does take some time to cure, the results are worth it. It all started with a recipe for "Vanilla Cordial" from a book by Susan Costner called Gifts of Food. She mentions in her writing that vanilla extract is the same as vanilla cordial. We followed her original recipe and were very pleased. Unfortunately, it just didn't make enough for our needs.
I'm going to list her original recipe and then the one I use now.
Gifts of Food, Susan Costner, page 154
4 or 5 vanilla beans, at least 5 to 6 inches long
1 quart vodka
1 cup sugar
one half cup water
one vanilla bean for packaging
6 cup bottle with tight fitting lid or cork
coffee filter paper
Cut each bean into 4 pieces. Split each section lengthwise with a sharp knife. Put the pieces into a clean dry bottle that has a tight cap. Add the vodka, cap the bottle, and shake well.
Store the bottle in a place where you will remember to shake it every few days. Let it steep for 2 to 3 weeks and shake it several times a week. A sniff and a taste will help you judge when it is ready. (Don't get caught nipping on the "extract" too often or you won't have any left for a gift!) Filter the extract into a clean, decorative bottle, using a kitchen funnel lined with a coffee filter.
Make a sugar syrup by boiling the sugar and water together until the sugar is completely dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Cool completely.
Add the sugar syrup to the bottled extract and shake well. Add the reserved bean and cap tightly. For best results the extract should be allowed to mature for a month before using.
The following is the recipe I use. If I'm going to go to all this trouble then I want a quantity. Also, my sisters and friends "bleed" me dry of vanilla as soon as they find out about the new batch.
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adapted by Georzetta
10 to 12 vanilla beans, at least 6 to 8 inches long
(make sure they are soft and pliable)
1.75 L vodka
(the big bottle of Smirnov's red label in glass, plastic can absorb flavors)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cups water
2 glass 1.75 L vodka bottles, one full and one empty
Pour out two cups of vodka from the bottle. Save it as you will need it later. Split the vanilla beans down the middle and scrap out the seeds. Put the seeds directly into the bottle with the vodka. Cut the bean hull into one inch pieces and drop them in as well. Do this for all of your beans.
Let the bottle sit somewhere you can see it but out of the light. Shake it every day or so. After about 3 or 4 weeks, most of the flavor should be out of the beans. Your bottle should be full of a wonderful smelling dark brown liquid.
It will smell more of vanilla and less of vodka. I also taste it when I think it is ready. It will have a strong vanilla taste that will override the vodka burn. The timing is not too precise here. It would be better to let it sit longer than shorter
Using the cheese cloth and kitchen funnel, filter the vanilla slowly into the empty bottle. I always wet my cheese cloth and wring it out before using. It may be necessary to rinse the cheese cloth several times during the filtering. This can take an hour or so.
Meanwhile, boil the water and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved. You could probably do this in the microwave. Boil the water and then add the sugar after the water is out of the microwave. Otherwise you might cook the sugar and end up with a bit of caramel. Let cool completely.
Pour the sugar syrup into the filtered vanilla. If you have any room left in your bottle, take the reserved vodka I had you save and pour it in the empty bottle with the vanilla pod residue. Swirl it around for a minute or so until it goes brown. Use that vodka to top off your bottle with the filtered vanilla. Don’t forget to filter this bit as well.
Sit the vanilla in a cool dark place for about a month and then it will be ready to use.
Now, this homemade vanilla is likely to be stronger than what you may be used to so a little experimentation might be in order.
I find that a teaspoon of this when using a boxed cake mix can really improve the taste of the cake.