As I promised last week, here's how to make homemade vanilla extract:
1. Buy Vodka. It needs to be 75-80 proof (37-40% alcohol). I bought 3, 1.75-liter bottles which made 140+ ounces of vanilla. I experimented with Svedka and White Wolf, Svedka had more of an alcohol smell after the extract had steeped. Buy whatever brand you'd like, the cheapest is what I buy. The 3 bottles were $40. (It's my understanding that the distilling process eliminates the gluten in vodka; however rum or bourbon can be used instead of vodka)
2. Buy Vanilla Beans. I bought 1 pound of Madagascar Bourbon Beans, Grade B from Vanilla Products on eBay. They were $30 with shipping.
3. Clean quart bottles or use the vodka bottles (if they are glass) to store the vanilla.
4. Cut up the beans. I think cutting the beans in half lengthwise is the easiest way. I experimented with cutting the beans into tiny pieces and didn't notice a difference. If you have cutting shears, use those!
5. Add the beans to the jars. I evenly distributed the beans into the 6 quart jars. Each jar had 25 beans.
6. Close the jars and store in a cool, dark place for at least 2 months. The longer you brew your vanilla, the richer and more developed the extract will taste. You can use a few less beans if you are brewing for a longer amount of time. Steep for 2-8 months. This year, I'll be brewing for a little under 6 months.
(Extract at 2 months)
7. Once a week (or when you remember), shake the jars.
8. Purchase bottles. I bought two types of bottles: 2 ounce and 4 ounce from Speciality Bottle. They have amber bottles and look great. Make sure you wash your bottles before you add the vanilla. I created a custom label for the vanilla with a standard return address label from Vista Print. The bottles and labels were $55
9. Strain the vanilla. This it the most challenging aspect of the extract process. I had a helper for this part and it went a lot faster (thanks Rachel). Line a stainer with a cheese cloth and strain the liquid into a 4-cup measuring jar. The cheese cloth with remove all of the bean paste and black particles. Carefully pour the vanilla into the jars with a funnel. Add the lid and wipe off any vanilla. Label the jars.
10. Give the vanilla as a gift. I added a Christmas ornanment to all of the jars instead of wrapping the vanilla (mini wreath tutorial up next). Make sure and keep some vanilla to use in your own recipes. My favorite recipe to add the vanilla to is homemade applesauce!
Grand total for 50 bottles of vanilla: $125 ($2.50 per bottle).
Please let me know if you have any questions. Happy brewing!
My main source to make vanilla was from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship.