For six years, I’ve brought a large bottle of vanilla extract home with me from the States every year. While living in Berlin, I considered the tiny, overpriced bottles available at KaDeWe. I searched expat and gourmet shops. I searched online. I looked at recipes. To be honest, it doesn’t look that difficult to make your own, so it’s time to step it up a notch. It’s time to start living what I preach. It’s time for me to make my own vanilla extract.
There are a myriad of recipes out there, just google and you’ll find them, but here’s mine. You’ll need:
- 1/2 liter of alcohol – You don’t need top of the line booze*, anything will do, as long as it’s 40% alcohol (that’s 80 proof). Vodka is nice and neutral, but I’ve seen dark rum in a lot of recipes. Since we don’t quite have a full bottle of vodka, I’m adding a small bottle of dark rum to the mix.
- 4-6 vanilla beans
- a jar with a lid
I decided that if I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna go all the way. So I searched and found an online shop Vanille aus Madagaskar, that sells 9 Bourbon vanilla beans from Madagascar for €12,90 (plus postage). This is quite the savings over the beans sold in the supermarkets, they look nicer, and are higher quality too. I took each bean and split it down the middle, leaving one end intact. Some recipes say to scrape the bean, but I chose not to.
I dropped the 6 split vanilla beans into the jar, then topped them with the vodka and dark rum. It’s important now to store the container in a dark, cool place. It will take at least 4-6 weeks before you’ll be able to use the extract, and 6 months to full maturity.
* If you plan on keeping the extract around for 10 years or so, you will want to use high quality alcohol – but I’m not making enough to last that long.
After one week of steeping, the extract is already a beautiful dark amber color. It still smells rather strongly of alcohol, but the vanilla scent is there. The jar gets shaken, and put back in it’s dark, cool spot.
I forgot to update this post at the 6 week and 6 month mark, but by 6 weeks the vanilla was incredible and it just kept getting better. By 6 months, it was by far a higher quality than anything I’d bought in a store. I’ll never go back to buying vanilla extract again. It’s easy, it just takes a little time, and it’s much cheaper. I used to ration out the vanilla extract, since I had a limited supply and could only restock during trips to the US. I’d ask whether I really wanted to put in it the french toast batter this week, or should I use some vanilla essence in the chocolate chip cookies instead. Now I don’t hesitate to use it.
At 10 months, I decided to add more vodka to the vanilla extract. Since I already have aged extract in the jar, it will only take a week or two to get back to full strength.
Instead of keeping it at 1/2 a liter, I went ahead and filled the jar up to the top. Because I added so much additional alcohol, it may take a little longer to get back to full strength, but even now it has a good vanilla scent and flavor.
It probably took a good 4 weeks to get back to it’s former strength, but that’s a lot quicker than the 6 months it took previously. Pretty soon I’m going to take out the old beans and replace them with new beans, but they seem fine for now, there’s hardly any degradation and the vanilla flavor is still strong, so I’ll leave them for a bit longer. I highly recommend making your own extract, even for cooks in the US, where extract is readily available.