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Easy Real Vanilla Extract

The older I get, the more I realize these two things:

  1. Homemade is almost always better.
  2. Doing something right is almost always worth it.

A couple of years ago I decided to make my own vanilla extract, and I haven’t regretted it.  Not only has it been significantly less expensive, it tastes better too.  A few weeks back Charity let me know that it was about time to make the next batch, so I began getting the ingredients together.

First, I ordered vanilla beans from Beanilla.com.

Madagascar Vanilla Beans

Madagascar Vanilla Beans

Resist the temptation to get premium beans and save some money while improving the quality of your extract by using grade B.  Thankfully it is not the end of the world if you order grade A because I messed up and did that on this order.  The reason to go with grade B is that there is less moisture in them, which makes for a better extract.  In my case, I will just have to use more beans.  Of course, grade B beans are less attractive, but who cares how they look for an extract?

You can spend all day searching for vanilla extract recipes, but you might still miss out on the real keys.  To be considered real vanilla extract, the extract must have the following attributes (see CFR part 169.175 for more information on the regulation specifying these attributes):

  • Vanilla Extract must contain no less than 35% alcohol (70 proof).
  • Vanilla Extract must contain 13.35 oz of vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol, which means you need 0.835 oz. of vanilla beans per cup of alcohol.
  • If your beans contain more than 25% moisture, then you will need to use more beans.  In my case, Beanilla’s premium vanilla beans contain approximately 33% moisture, which meant I had to use more beans.  (I used the following formula: (13.35 oz * 0.75)/0.67 = 14.94.  In other words, I need 14.94 oz of premium vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol (or 0.934 oz per cup, which I will round to 1 oz per cup).  Because I am using 80 proof alcohol, I could further adjust this, but I am going to choose not to since a higher alcohol content is acceptable.)

With all that legal mumbo jumbo out of the way, let’s make some extract!

The ingredients I will use is as follows:

  • 1 oz of vanilla beans (this is more than is required, but more is acceptable, less is not)
  • 1 cup of alcohol that is at least 70 proof (35%)

Now, let’s begin the real work.

  • Cut the beans longways.  Some folks say to scrape the pith out, but by cutting the beans longways you are allowing the pith to come in contact with the alcohol, which is what you are after.
  • Next, cut the beans in small pieces.  The smaller the better here.  The more surface that can touch the alcohol, the better.
  • Put the cut beans into an appropriate sized jar and add the alcohol.
  • Store in a cool dark place, and shake vigorously every day for at least the first week.
  • After the first week, store in a cool dark place and shake vigorously a few times a week for the next three weeks.
  • At this point, your extract is done; however, I prefer to let mine age as long as possible — at least six months.  Longer is better.

First, we need to slice our beans longways:

Slicing Vanilla Beans Longways

Slicing Vanilla Beans Longways

Next, cut the bean pods into small segments.  Remember, smaller is better, as the more surface area that touches the alcohol, the better.

Cutting Vanilla Beans

Cutting Vanilla Beans

Cut Vanilla Beans

Cut Vanilla Beans

 

Place the pith and the cut pods into a glass jar and add the alcohol.

Cut Vanilla Beans in a Glass Jar

Cut Vanilla Beans in a Glass Jar

Day One of the Vanilla Extract Aging

Day One of the Vanilla Extract Aging

Aged Bourbon Vanilla Extract

Aged Bourbon Vanilla Extract

That’s it!  Now I’ve place my jar in a cabinet to be taken out and shaken as described above.  Though I will strain out the pith when I am ready to use the extract, I will leave the pods in the extract, as I suspect some vanilla will still extract out over time, and there is no danger of spoiling in the proportions used for this recipe.

You will notice, perhaps, the last picture is labeled “Aged Bourbon Vanilla Extract”.  The first time we made this, we made one batch with bourbon, which gives the vanilla a different flavor that adds some uniqueness to the foods you make with the extract, and you’re not likely going to find that on a store shelf.

I owe significant credit to the Vanilla Extract Instructionable and the superceding VanillaReview.com instructions.


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