One thing I use a lot of in this house is vanilla. Since I bake zucchini bread every week, that’s already a tablespoon per week…plus most of the cookies and other goodies I bake also use vanilla. Throw in French toast from time to time and other breakfast goodies and that’s even more vanilla. And strangely enough, here in Germany you can only get vanilla sugar. Which is ok…but just not quite the same. So although our friends and family have been fantastic about sending and bringing vanilla to us all the time, I have always wanted to learn how to make vanilla extract. I knew it was simple…but I never imagined it was this simple.
What I found really fantastic when I was learning how to make vanilla extract is that you can just keep using the vanilla beans over and over again. Just pour out 80% of the finished vanilla extract into another jar and leave the other 20% behind in the original jar with the beans and vanilla pieces. Add more vodka to fill the jar up again, let it sit for about four weeks, and you’ll have a whole new batch of vanilla. I’ve heard this also works with rum but I’d think the rum contributes more of its own flavor…if you’ve ever tried it with rum, please let us know how it turned out.
When you make vanilla extract, don’t worry about using expensive vodka. Some say the finished product will have less of a vodka aroma if you use the really good stuff, but I think that in most cases you won’t notice the vodka-ness once you’re using the extract and have it combined with other ingredients. And although the vodka smell will be really strong when you start, after your extract has been steeping for two months, you’ll mostly just smell vanilla which grows each day longer that it sits. So if you’re in no rush to use the extract and still have a strong vodka smell, just let the vanilla extract sit a bit longer.
If you’ve cut open vanilla beans to harvest the vanilla out of them for another recipe, you can even use those beans to make vanilla extract. That means a whole lot of extract from something you were fully prepared to throw away. Or if you prefer, you can also stuff the beans down into a jar of sugar and make your own vanilla infused sugar. Put it in coffee or use it for baking just like you would vanilla extract.
So I ordered about 2 dozen vanilla beans online for under 10 euros and decided to finally get started on a batch of vanilla extract at the beginning of April. A day or so later it already looked like this.
After shaking you could really see all the vanilla particles floating around.
After two weeks, the vodka had taken on a nice caramel color and I knew we were making good progress.
Not quite two months have passed (the usual amount of time you should let the extract sit), but I just couldn’t wait any longer…and my other vanilla stockpiles had been depleted. The vodka smell is nearly gone and I couldn’t taste any alcohol at all when I used it for zucchini bread. So far I haven’t used it in too many other things but I’m not sure I will ever buy vanilla again now that I know how incredibly simple it is to make your own vanilla extract. You’ll notice that the color doesn’t appear all that different versus a month ago although if you don’t have the jar close to a light source, it really has gotten quite dark.
Here’s the quick and easy recipe to make your own vanilla extract. If you’re wondering what in the world you would do with all that vanilla, why not start putting it aside for a rainy day — or give it to friends with other baking ingredients or homemade gifts in a nice basket? They probably won’t have a clue how easy it was for you to make and will be really impressed with your self-sufficiency skills!
How to Make Vanilla Extract
- 6 vanilla beans
- 2 cups vodka
- Leaving one inch of the vanilla bean untouched at a single end, slice the bean in half using a small, sharp knife.
- Place beans into a jar or bottle and completely cover then with vodka. If they are too long, just squish them down into the jar a bit more. If you use a small bottle of vodka, just drop the beans into the original bottle or add more beans for the added amount of vodka.
- Place the jar/bottle in a dark cupboard or pantry for at least two months. Remember to shake periodically to redistribute the vanilla as it will generally settle to the bottom of the jar and only infuse the bottom half of the vodka.
- When finished, use this vanilla extract as usual and don’t forget to refill the jar once you’ve removed 80% of the vanilla so your beans continue working as you use up your supply of extract. The same beans will produce vanilla extract for many years.