I really didn’t get into the really funky side of cooking until about 2008. Being someone who just loved good food who had no real training in the art of being a Chef I was still getting my feet wet at perfecting every day cooking skills many Chef’s truly take for granted. Being a massive geek in everything I do I wanted to learn right from the basics why things worked from the very beginning so when I started baking more I was intrigued by the use of extracts and how they were made. Vanilla seemed like a really great place to start and it was, easy, always used in baking and also smells wonderful. So I read, read, and read some more about how to make my own Vanilla extracts online – problem was that none of the recipes seemed common. Most sites I read seemed to have copied one other persons and used it as their own. Now being realistic about the whole process there really are only two ingredients in the extract to begin with so how complicated can it be. It’s not – there is just a massive amount of misinformation on how to make it out there. Which means a very bad approximation of an actual extract so I experimented and produced the following myths and directions, Enjoy!
MYTH 1: Use the absolute best vodka you can buy
REALITY: Use the cheapest best vodka – nothing flavoured. Simple as that. Expensive Vodka isn’t going to make any difference unless you are swilling it right out of the bottle after creating the extract. In 95% of the cooking applications you will be using Vanilla Extract for it will be cooked for very long periods and actually be less than %.05 of the actual volume of the recipe (or LESS!)
MYTH 2: You only need 1 or two vanilla beans really, to make a whole bottle of Vanilla Extracts
REALITY: You can absolutely use one or two beans in a whole bottle of Vodka. It of course won’t be anything other than lightly flavoured vanilla vodka. You could soak those puppies for a year and you will still only have vanilla flavoured vodka.
MYTH 3: Homemade vanilla extract is more expensive than store bought
REALITY: It sure is more expensive….if you have been buying imitation vanilla extract. That stuff is cheap, full of chemicals and tastes like it too. Pure Vanilla Extract is much more expensive (about $5 – $8 per 60ml), and it isn’t by any means ‘pure’ – it usually has the following Water, Alcohol, sugar, vanilla bean extractives (what is that anyway, and how is that pure…)
NOTE: The USDA requires at least 35% vol. of alcohol and 13.35 ounces of pod per gallon which is roughly 8-11 pods per 250ml. I have made it this way, it is excellent vanilla extract although it can be very expensive to replicate for the home user. The homemade extract you can do with 6 beans will be better than anything you purchase in the store (unless it is twofold, which means 2x the amount of Vanilla). (Thanks to @CrippleCreekBBQ heads up on this information)
6 Vanilla Beans (Bourbon Vanilla Beans if you please)
~350 ml glass or plastic jar that is sealable
Step 1: Cut the six vanilla beans lengthwise down the middle (expose all those wonderful vanilla seeds). Drop them in the bottle. If they don’t fit, force them, or cut them in half, or whatever just get them into the bottle.
Step 2: Cover with vodka and seal, shake every couple of days
Step 3: Wait patiently for about 4-6 weeks – voila amazing Vanilla extract (shake before each use). At the 6-8 week point you can either pour out the vodka that is in there into another jar and start the process over again with the same beans (about 3 times) or you can just top up your extract until such a point as it stops being extract and starts being flavoured vodka.
The extract should be a deep brown colour and will have an oil residue on the top of it. Shake up the extract before use. You will also find this is about eleventy-billion times better than your store bought extracts. Think about using less in each recipe, unless you are like me and LOVE vanilla use more.
One more final note, use Bourbon Vanilla beans. They have nothing to do with Bourbon at all, it’s just their name. Also think about purchasing them in bulk from an online supplier. They become really very cheap buying in bulk.