I do a lot of baking, especially during the holidays. Vanilla extract is an important part of my favorite sweet treats. It’s a “flavor potentiator” meaning it enhances other flavors including our perception of sweetness.
Vanilla extract is usually made from ethyl alcohol, water and low grade vanilla beans. You can increase the quality and flavor by making your own extract.
Choose high quality or Grade A vanilla beans. Look for organic fair trade beans rather than bulk quantities from sites like eBay.
Beans from different areas of the world have subtle flavor differences. Bourbon or Madagascar beans have a classic vanilla flavor. Tahitian beans have a more floral or fruity taste. Ugandan beans taste smoky. Mexican beans are slightly spicy. You can make a single flavor extract using one kind of beans or create your own blend using multiple kinds of vanilla.
Vodka is the alcohol most often used when making your own vanilla extract. It has a neutral flavor that won’t affect the taste of your extract. For a slightly different taste try rum, brandy or bourbon.
So here is the magic formula to make your own vanilla extract:
3 to 5 vanilla beans
8 oz. (1 cup) vodka, rum, brandy or bourbon
Split the beans in half lengthwise. If the whole beans won’t fit into your bottle, you can chop them into smaller pieces.
Place the beans in a glass jar and add the alcohol. Make sure that your beans are completely covered.
Put the lid on the jar and give it a shake. Store your jar in a cool, dark place for 1 to 2 months, giving it a shake periodically. Taste the extract to see if it is at the strength that you want.
Once you have reached the flavor you want, either remove the beans or strain your extract through a cheesecloth or fine strainer. Or you can choose to leave the beans in and just top off the jar as you use the extract.
Store your extract in a cool, dark place. Because you are using alcohol, your extract will not “go bad”.