Fantastic Homemade Vanilla Extract

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Is it ever too early to start thinking about Christmas and all the baking that you will be doing? I don’t think so. Not when that is one of your favorite aspects of the holiday season – baking. So why not make homemade vanilla extract. Homemade vanilla extract requires just 3 ingredients: alcohol, vanilla, and time!

As you may know I cook and bake on a regular basis. Which results in me going through a ridiculous amount of vanilla. Between testing recipes for my food blog, baking, cooking for the family and making meals for friends, I found myself running through bottles of vanilla like nobody’s business.

Quick fact; Did you know that vanilla is native to Central America? The Aztec used vanilla to flavor their chocolate drinks, and to pay their taxes. Who knew?

When baking I like to use good quality ingredients which can result in an expensive grocery bill.  One day I was searching on how to get the best bang for my buck after buying some VERY expensive vanilla extract. For that reason, I started researching on how to make homemade vanilla.  My sister, Belinda Griffith, gave me my first bottle of her homemade vanilla and it was fabulous. So I told myself, Pam, you can make your own vanilla!!!  (Does anyone else talk to themselves besides me?)

And so it began, my quest to make perfect vanilla.  I really wanted to use local whiskey so I decided I would pay a visit to a local distillery in Durham, North Carolina – Mystic Farm and Distillery. Which as I understand is “The Triangle’s Only Field to Bottle Farm Distillery”. Mystic Farm and Distillery started in 2013 with a small dream: to make an all-American version of a Scottish spiced whisky liqueur.  After many hundreds of versions, experimenting with different combinations of botanicals and sweeteners, Mystic discovered the perfect combination to making an outstanding whisky: a nine-spice tea with a touch of wildflower honey blended into a 45% wheat bourbon.  That’s how Mystic Bourbon Liqueur was born.  A couple of years ago, they introduced Heart of Mystic Bourbon they take from the barrel, without chill filtering or proofing water, directly into the bottle. They have also built out a 3000 square foot distillery on their 20+ acre farm.  In 2016 they began growing their own corn and wheat to distill and barrel. They also have bee hives on their farm producing honey for their use and growing some botanicals as well for new products. If you have the opportunity you need to check out this distillery and don’t forget to try their frozen bourbon lemonade (oh so good!!!).  

And now to the question that my daughters asked “Why make vanilla extract when you can just buy it from the store?” Well, that is a very good question. If you bake on a regular basis, you may have noticed that the price of vanilla is constantly fluctuating and skyrocketing, and really good vanilla can set you back a pretty penny.  Two of the things I learned in my research is it is very cost efficient to make your own vanilla and you can control the strength of its flavor. One thing I know for a fact is many pricey store-bought vanillas lack the essential depth of flavor that makes a good vanilla or even great vanilla. This is either because the vanilla extract is imitation and made with artificial or synthetic ingredients or the distributors cut back on the amount of real vanilla in each bottle. Basically, you are not paying for good vanilla, you are paying for the convenience walking into the store and purchasing a very weak bottled vanilla.

In comparison, if you set a bottle of homemade vanilla extract beside a bottle of store-bought vanilla extract and open them both you will immediately smell the difference. And this difference directly transfers into your homemade baked goods. Vanilla extract is an essential ingredient in baking. Without it, recipes seem flat and muted. Even when vanilla isn’t the main attraction in baked goods, it helps elevate other flavors. If you want more control over the flavor and quality of ingredients, you need to make your own vanilla extract.

Learning how to make vanilla extract is easier than you think, and you’ll end up with a unique blend that’s perfect for your baking. It requires only 2 ingredients and will make all of your baked goods and desserts taste and smell incredible.

What You Need for Homemade Vanilla Extract

What You Need for Homemade Vanilla Extract

1.       Vanilla Beans: Let’s pause for a minute and talk about vanilla beans.

There are different varieties of vanilla beans. The three main types are Madagascar, Tahitian, and Mexican vanilla beans, but they are grown in other parts of the world as well.

Here’s what you should know about the flavor profile of each kind of bean:

  • Madagascar: Imparts a classic vanilla flavor that’s described as creamy and sweet. Madagascar beans are most often used to make vanilla extract; it’s familiar and comforting.
  • Tahitian: Contains floral notes as well as subtle cherry and almond overtones; pairs well with fruity desserts. It has a strong vanilla aroma.
  • Mexican: Described as woodsy with hints of spice. This vanilla variety is exciting, a perfect choice for those looking to bring something new to their baking.

In addition to varieties, there are also different grades of vanilla beans. Grade A beans are longer and moister, and Grade B beans are less pretty and usually recommended for making extract. Grade B beans are less expensive, so if you’re trying to cut back on cost, definitely go for the Grade B beans. One thing to remember using premium grade vanilla beans will provide significantly better flavor and aroma than commercially produced extracts. Vanilla beans are expensive, but 5-6 of them make an entire CUP (8 ounces) of vanilla extract and you can reuse the beans. Compare that to $4 for 1 ounce of store-bought extract.

After much research and study, I purchased the Grade A Madagascar Vanilla Beans from Vanilla Bean Kings.  Vanilla Bean Kings offers the best vanilla beans in the world. Each bean has a heavenly buttery aroma with a rich, black or dark brown color with an oily outside surface gives a hint of the magic. The interior of the vanilla bean is where the magic is. Millions of tiny, black vanilla seeds await.

2.        80 proof Alcohol: Vanilla extract is most commonly made from vodka, but you can use bourbon, brandy, or rum instead. I decided to use vodka and bourbon since Mystic Distillery had both.

3.        Glass Bottles or Jars with Tight Seal: I purchased a complete kit of bottles from Amazon Swing Top Glass Bottles – 8.5 ounce Flip Top Bottles which included a 8 pack of 8.5 ounce bottles, 8 replacement silicone seal. 8 black water-proof labels, 2 Food-grade silicone funnels and 1 white pen. These bottles have a convenient swing top with a very tight seal.

4.        Sharp Knife:  My favorite knife to use in almost every thing I do is a paring knife.  I am not sure why, but I really feel comfortable with a paring knife in my hand.  One of my favorite paring knives is the Wüsthof Classic Paring Knife, 3.5 inches. A good paring knife is essential for every kitchen.

5.        Funnel: A funnel is optional, but it makes pouring 100x quicker and easier. Two funnels came in my bottle kit.

Now we can get into the particulars of how to make vanilla extract!

How to Make Vanilla Extract

      Wash and sanitize bottles and lids. I washed with mild soapy water, rinsed then swirled with boiling hot water to sanitize them.

      Start by cutting 6 fresh vanilla beans open lengthwise for an 8 ounce bottle.  If there are any vanilla beans stuck to your scissors or knife, make sure to put them in your bottle. You don’t want to waste any of the vanilla caviar.  If your jar is larger than 8 ounces, use more beans and alcohol so that the alcohol will cover the beans. Just remember this ratio: 6 vanilla beans per 8 ounces of alcohol. So if your jar is 12 ounces, use 9 vanilla beans. If it’s 16 ounces, use 12 beans.

Stick 6 to 8 of your sliced vanilla beans in a bottle.

Pour one cup of your alcohol of choice on top. Make sure it covers the beans! If any are sticking out, you can cut them down to fit better. Use a funnel or measuring cup to pour to the alcohol into the bottle.

Now seal your bottle and give it a good shake once a week – for best results. Store in a cool, dark spot for at least 4 months but even better after 6 months. And now wait.

As the vanilla extract sits, it will get darker. You want the beans to soak in the alcohol for at least 4 months before using it. The flavor will only get better with time.

If you’d like to make vanilla extract as a gift, don’t worry if it won’t be ready in time! Simply package it in a pretty bottle, tie some baker’s twine around the neck, and add a label that clearly states when the vanilla will be ready to be used. You can use sticker labels, or simply punch a hole in a label and tie it to the jar with ribbon or twine.

Homemade vanilla extract will be your secret ingredient for baking! Once you make your own homemade vanilla extract, there’s just no going back to the store-bought version.


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