How to Make Your Own Vanilla
Do you like vanilla? It is a flavor that can be amazing on its own and at the same time enhance the flavors of many other ingredients. Have you ever forgot to put the vanilla in a recipe? One small teaspoon will make just about any baked good taste better. It is kind of like salt. You may not be able to say what is missing, but you know the food isn’t quite right without it.
I have been making my own vanilla extract for years. Pure vanilla extract is made from vanilla beans and a liquid. That liquid can vary, but because the compounds that make vanilla are water soluble, it is best to make it with a liquid. You could use water, but by using an alcohol, you also add a preservative to your extract. Many people have heard of “Bourbon Vanilla” and think that bourbon is the best alcohol to make vanilla extract. The term “Bourbon Vanilla” actually comes from the Bourbon Islands of Madagascar where some of the world’s best vanilla beans are grown and has nothing to do with bourbon that you drink. In fact, using bourbon can distort the taste of vanilla extract. That is why I prefer to use vodka when making vanilla extract.
Vodka is a very neutral alcohol with little to no flavor. When making vanilla extract, the cheap stuff works really well. It is not necessary to by high end vodka. Save that for your martini where you can tell the difference.
Making vanilla is super easy. You chop up vanilla beans, place them in a jar with an air-tight lid, cover the beans with vodka and let it steep for 3-6 months. I like to make this in big batches and keep one jar steeping while I am using another jar. The longer you let it steep and the more vanilla beans you add per cup of vodka, the stronger the vanilla.
I aim to make a rather strong vanilla. By adding more vanilla beans per cup, you get a more concentrated extract that will add more vanilla flavor with less liquid. I have found that 3 vanilla beans for every 3/4 cup of vodka is a good ratio. You can buy many different kinds of vanilla beans and they can be very pricey. I prefer the flavor Madagascar or Tahitian vanilla beans. Many people like Mexican vanilla beans. For making vanilla you can buy “dry” beans which means they are dehydrated and brittle. They are less expensive and work great for making vanilla extract.
To make the most of the expensive vanilla beans. I will use the pieces of bean to make custard, pudding, or ice cream. When the vanilla is ready, you can strain out the solids using a fine mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter and store the extract in a bottle or jar. Use the leftover vanilla beans to flavor the milk or cream for your custard as you heat it and strain out before cooling.
3 Vanilla Beans
3/4 Cup Vodka
Cut the vanilla beans into 1/2 inch pieces and place in a jar with an air-tight lid like a mason jar. Cover with 3/4 cup of vodka. Place the lid tightly on the jar and let steep in a cool and dark place for 3-6 months. Once or twice a week, shake the jar. To use the vanilla, you can strain out the vanilla bean pieces through a fine mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter, or if you do not mind a few specks of vanilla in your food, you can just pour it off the top of the jar.