Sunday, March 11, 2012

How To: Make Vanilla Extract and Save Money!

Experience is the extract of suffering. – Arthur Helps 

This is someone else's homemade vanilla extract. I'll swap out with mine when it's ready.
Photo: di.wineanddine, Flickr ccl
This is one of those how-to recipes that that everyone should try at least once. It is so easy that it essentially makes itself without any outside intervention. Unfortunately it’s also one of those recipes that you have to wait, and wait, for the results.

This is all you need to make your own vanilla.
Have you ever wondered what miraculous processes are involved in making that oh-so-expensive pure vanilla extract? I thought I “sort of” knew, until I read a short article in a small weekly newspaper here in Nova Scotia called The Advance.

In that particular issue was an article about money saving ideas that are easy to do yourself – that we never think of doing. One of them was making vanilla extract. It actually was even easier than I thought. It just takes waiting time. There is no instant gratification. That comes later.

So how do you do it? All you need are vanilla beans, vodka, small bottles and a knife. I found small corked bottles at Michael’s arts and crafts for $1.69 each. They are perfect.

In case you don’t already know, vanilla beans (the origin of “real” extract) are the seed pods of the orchid Vanilla planifolia. 

Mesoamerican peoples cultivated the vanilla orchid, but it wasn’t called vanilla until the Spanish arrived. Their word “vainilla” means "little pod." Cortés is credited with introducing Europe to both vanilla and chocolate.

We usually purchase vanilla extract here in Nova Scotia for about $15 per 4 ounces (110 ml). Since we’re making a whopping 375 ml supply to compare cost multiply that by three to $45 CAN.

Split each half-bean to expose the seeds. That's what you see
as "dirt" on the cutting board. They're very small.
This recipe (375 ml of vanilla extract) costs between $25-$32 for the whole lot, including the bottles. The variable is in the price of the vanilla beans. They really can make a difference in cost. They’re cheap at our local Bulk Barn bulk food stores and every bit as good as more expensive gourmet stores.

If you do a lot of baking I know you swear by pure vanilla extract. This does take time but is well worth the wait.

My photo shows the extract right after combining. About 5 hours later I could see a little colour coming into the bottles. I’ll keep updating pictures on this entry as it ages.

Homemade Vanilla Extract*
This is right after combining.
Time: 1 to 6 months
4-1/2 vanilla beans
375 ml vodka
3 1/2-cup bottles (118 ml)

Cut each vanilla bean in half. Split the vanilla beans down lengthwise and peel back to expose the seeds.

Add 1 and 1/2 beans to each small bottle. Pour 1/2 cup vodka over the beans, cork and wait.

It will be perfectly clear at first, but at 1 week you will begin to see some colour. After 12 hours I could see some colour in mine.

This is the vanilla after only 24 hours.
At 1 month your extract will be usable but weak. At 3 months it will be very good. At 6 months it will be amazing. It will continue to darken as it ages.

I have read that you can keep your vanilla going by topping up with more vodka as you use it and exchange the beans as they get exhausted.

If you do it now, you’ll be ready to gift these come September. I know it’s a while, but it will be here before we know it, I’m sure.

* Of course you can scale this recipe up or down. The ratio is 1.5 beans to 1/2 cup (118 ml) of vodka.


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1 comment:

  1. I've experimented with different beans and different alcohol and they all turned out fantastic. The richest, most flavorful vanilla was made with rum and Madagascar beans. I've also made excellent lemon extract. The only one I haven't perfected yet is almond.