Saturday, October 15, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract

After The Yellow One made her fabulous vodka pie crust, we found ourselves in possession of a small bottle of vodka.  Now, this typically wouldn't be a problem for three graduate students such as ourselves, except that it was cheapest, grossest vodka we could find.  It has therefore spent the last month taking up space in our freezer.

Yeah.  Go Hawkeyes.

As you might imagine, Yellow and I go through a lot of baking supplies.  And probably the most expensive is vanilla extract.  You can get the cheap, imitation stuff for little more than a dollar.  But your baking suffers for your cheapness.  A decent quality vanilla extract will run you around $5-8 for a 4 oz. bottle.  

What?  Is the secret ingredient gold?

The vodka reminded me a trick I'd read about years ago.  Homemade vanilla extract using vodka and vanilla beans.  I couldn't make it at the time as I wasn't old enough to buy alcohol yet and just forgot about it.

After re-researching the product, I decided to give it go.  Many others seemed satisfied with their results and I look forward to never being without my precious elixir again.

To make the extract you will need:

1 cup vodka, bourbon, or rum
3 vanilla beans
An air-tight glass container large enough to hold both the liquor and beans.

Clean and sterilize the container.  Either run through a dish washer, or hand wash and fill with boiling water.  Allow to cool and dry.  Fill with liquor of choice.

Take the vanilla beans and slice down the middle.  If your container is tall enough, slice the bean leaving about an inch unsliced at the bottom.  If you used a smaller jar like I did, cut bean in half before slicing, again leaving a bit at the bottom unsliced.

Place the sliced vanilla beans in the jar.  Close jar.  Shake vigoursly.  Place in a dark space. 

Give the jar a shake about once every week.  Extract will be ready in two months.

Two months!? But I want it now!

Yep, two months.  But it was be so worth the wait.

Some cool things I've read about the upkeep of the extract.  You can pretty much keep it going by 'feeding' it like you would a sourdough starter (which is a post for another time).  When the jar gets down to about a quarter tank, top off with more liquor and replace one of the beans with a fresh one.

On choosing liquors, vodka, rum, and bourbon were the blog favorites.  Anything that is 80 proof (40% alcohol  works.  I used vodka as it makes plain, old fashioned extract and we had some on hand.  But the rum version would also add a nice flavor to many recipes like banana's foster, buttercream frosting, and anything with chocolate in it.

Lastly, look around for inexpensive vanilla beans.  This might mean looking online.  The cheapest bean that I could find in my city ran just under $3; the most expensive was $11.95.  For a bean.  I found good quality beans here.  They sometimes sell them even cheaper on Amazon.  I ended up only paying $0.65 a bean, though I had to buy a 10 pack.

We will keep you updated on the extract's progress. If all goes well, it should be done just in time for our Christmas Baking Extravaganza!

- The Pink One

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