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vanilla by ted_major
vanilla, a photo by ted_major on Flickr.

For the past few years, we’ve been making homemade vanilla extract for ourselves and for Christmas presents. We started with a basic recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, and scaled it up, because 3/4 cup of extract just isn’t enough. With a little experimentation, we also increased the amount of vanilla to reach our current ratio.

To make vanilla extract, you’re going to need to buy vanilla beans in bulk. Grocery store beans won’t cut it,for two critical reasons. First, they’re outrageously expensive–one or two beans in a jar. The first problem leads to the second: they’re so expensive that nobody buys them, so they sit on the shelf for a long time and as a result are dessicated and terribly stale.

We’ve had good luck buying from Arizona Vanilla Company (no affiliation, just happy customers). Since we’re making extract, we buy the grade B beans which aren’t as pretty, but work just fine. A half pound goes for a little over $20 the last time we bought some. It’s more than we need for extract, but they keep well in a glass jar in the freezer (even after a year, they’re fresher than what you get in the grocery store!). You can see from the photo how much oilier they are than those dried out things in the store.

To make a little under 750 mL of extract:

  • 40 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
  • 750 mL bottle of vodka

Pour out a little bit of vodka, then put in 40 beans. Top with the vodka you poured out, and then set aside in a dark, cool spot for at least 6 weeks. From time to time, turn the bottle over to mix. After a few weeks, the vodka will start to darken. Six weeks is the minimum to soak it, but longer is even better. We keep a fifth of vanilla extract steeping pretty much all the time, and use it to top off a smaller bottle we keep in the spice cabinet.