Sunday, January 13, 2013

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

I love making my own vanilla extract – it’s a very simple process, and the hardest thing about it is waiting for it to be ready… Since it makes a lot of extract at once, it’s great for gifts (or, like me, you could use a lot of it yourself)!



-         Small knife
-         Paper plate
-         Vanilla beans (16 per 750 ml bottle of rum) – I buy mine online in bulk (~1/4 lb)
-         Rum (80 proof)


Time Commitment:

 <30 min. prep, ~6 months until bottling

How to Make it Happen, Cap'n:

1) Start by gathering your tools/supplies – because the beans will go directly into alcohol, I don’t sanitize my knife (but it is cleaned thoroughly) and use a paper plate so I don’t have to worry about a cutting board. I use 750 ml bottles and 16 vanilla beans per bottle to give it a deep, rich flavor.

Step 1- Assemble Team

2) Because the vanilla beans will take up space in the bottle, pour off about 1/2 cup of rum (per 750 ml bottle). Use this extra how you see fit (I recommend making rum cake, but that’s another story).

Step 2 - Excess Rum Extraction

3) Cut each bean in half, then cut each half lengthwise leaving about a half inch connected. If you accidentally cut it completely lengthwise it’s not a problem, I just find the used beans easier to find when making vanilla sugar (also another story). Add the split halves directly to the bottle of rum, making sure they are completely covered by alcohol. 

Step 3 - Perform Bean Surgery

4) After adding all the beans to the bottle, screw on the cap and give it a firm shake to help the vanilla bean seeds (the little black things in the bean) come in contact with as much of the rum as possible.

Step 4 - Exercise, Baker-style

5) Now your extract is ready for aging – put it in a dark, cool place (like a cupboard) for the next six months. Once or twice a week (or whenever you remember), give it a shake. Make sure the vanilla beans stay completely covered by alcohol – they won’t do your extract any good if they’re not. The extract will start to smell like vanilla (and you can use some) after about 3 months, but I leave mine for at least six months before removing the beans and bottling to make sure the vanilla beans give as much flavor to the extract as possible.

Step 5- Say Goodbye for a While

6) Retrieve it six months later (after forgetting about it, then opening the cupboard and wondering why you have a bottle of rum in the far back corner)...

The picture above shows your baby extract (0 months old) on the left, and a six month old extract on the right- the six month old is ready for bottling, see How to Bottle Homemade Vanilla Extract!



I use rum as a base because I like the hint of caramel and depth of flavor that it gives the extract, but I’ve heard of plenty of extracts using vodka, whiskey, or bourbon bases. I use 80 proof (40% alcohol) rums, since the water content of the vanilla beans will slightly lower the alcohol content of the finished extract.

A word of caution: Homemade vanilla extract smells strongly of alcohol when it’s in the bottle (which shouldn’t be a surprise). Commercial vanilla extracts also contain alcohol (35% by law), but they are made so that there is no alcohol smell. After bottling, I’ve found that the smell fades somewhat over time as the extract matures. Because relatively small amounts are used in baking and frostings, I don’t notice any alcohol smell when the extract is actually used (just the delicious, rich vanilla flavoring comes through).

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