By: Veronica LePinske. Vanilla is one of the most popular flavorings for cakes, cookies, and creamy desserts. I like to try it out in unexpected places like barbecue sauce, stir fry, and adding a dash to vinaigrettes. Perhaps you’ve experimented with vanilla too, or maybe you’ve not yet ventured beyond baking with it, but, either way, there is something you should know about some store bought vanilla extracts.
Most people buy generic vanilla, (I must admit, I’ve used it too) but most of the cheaper brands don’t even contain actual vanilla at all, but a synthetic substitute misleadingly called vanillin. Ever since learning this I have been making my own extract by soaking vanilla beans in neutral spirits (vodka or rum) and though it takes a few weeks to develop the most flavor, I have an almost endless supply and I know exactly what goes into it.
That’s not to say you can’t buy good vanilla extract, just that if you like to experiment in the kitchen, this recipe might be for you!
- 750 ml of 40% Alcohol (Vodka, Bourbon, Rum or Brandy with a 70-80 proof. Try not to use the super cheap stuff!)
- 12-15 Whole vanilla beans (3 beans for every cup of alcohol)
- Glass bottle or jar with a tight-fitting cap or cork
- Split the vanilla beans lengthwise with a sharp knife, exposing the seeds and pulp within. Some recipes call for you to scrape out the pulp inside the beans and some say it isn't necessary. My first batch, I didn't scrape and it turned out perfectly. This batch I did scrape and so far it looks great. So, I’ll leave it up to you. Once you prepared the vanilla beans, drop them in a glass bottle or jar.
- Fill the bottle with the alcohol of your choice (I have always used Vodka, as it has little flavor of its own), leaving a 1/2 inch of head space. Seal tightly and shake vigorously for 2-3 minutes.
- Store the bottle or jar in a cool dark space (such as the back of a kitchen cabinet) and shake once a week for 8-10 weeks. Since I didn't scrape my vanilla beans in my first batch, I noticed from the shaking I did once a week, that it tended to release those bits from the vanilla beans.
- Note: The hardest part about this recipe is patience but I promise you, it’ll be worth it.