A couple of years ago, I read a fun and interesting book titled “Make the Bread, Buy the Butter: What You Should and Shouldn’t Cook from Scratch”, by Jennifer Reese. At that point, I had already started making more and more things from scratch for various reasons – everything from saving money and avoiding nasty additives to achieving a better taste or just having fun in the kitchen and trying out new recipes. And those are just the sort of things that Jennifer Reese talks about in her book. She figured out when it is cheaper to make or buy an item and when it tastes better homemade or when it just isn’t worth the trouble to make it yourself. This saved me a lot of time and mess in the kitchen! So, after reading the book, I started making my own nut butters, bread crumbs, hummus, vinaigrettes, ricotta, and vanilla extract. There is also a yummy (and simple) recipe for burgers that we use all the time now. And I would still love to try my own cream cheese, sausage, or fresh chevre someday.
So “today” (I wrote that word back in April but, hey, better late than never!) I wanted to share my version of the homemade vanilla extract recipe with you. This is super simple and can save you some money when compared to the organic vanilla extract for sale at the grocery store. The best way to save money is to make a large batch.
Prices of vanilla extract in the grocery story range from $33.52/pint (generic grocery store brand) to $76.64/pint (Spice Islands brand). For reference, the McCormick brand was $57.44/pint. None of these were organic.
When I made six pints of vanilla extract (using 24 beans from 1/4lb package and 96oz of vodka ), I spent a total of $47.66 ($24.95 for beans and $22.71 for vodka), or $7.94/pint.
When purchasing the vodka, you actually want to look for the cheapest vodka available at your liquor store to use in this recipe. The reason is that the more expensive brands of vodka will add certain flavorings to the liquor, which will change the taste of your vanilla extract.
HOMEMADE VANILLA EXTRACT
6 vanilla beans
12-14 oz cheap vodka
Cut the vanilla beans in half using kitchen shears (if you have them…if not, a knife on a cutting board will work just fine) and scrape out the seeds.
Put the seeds and the beans in a pint-sized canning jar (or any other jar with a tight-fitting lid). Pour the vodka over the beans.
Put the lid on and give it a good shake. (I recommend putting on your favorite pop song and dancing around the kitchen!) Put the jar in a cool, dark place (your pantry cupboard? the basement? the garage?) and let sit for 3 months, giving it another good shake every time you notice it sitting there.
Also, I should note that it is possible to reuse the beans with new vodka for up to one year. So, theoretically, you could get 4 uses out of one set of beans, bringing the cost down even more. I’ve only ever used my beans twice (with good results) but please feel free to squeeze them for everything they are worth! If you want to try this idea, just remove the beans after 3 months and move them to a new jar. Maybe give them another scrape in case there are any seeds lingering inside the pod and pour a new batch of vodka on top of them. Cover and shake and store for another 3-6 months.
This stuff will pretty much last forever but, if you don’t want 6 pint jars of vanilla extract sitting in your pantry for the next 10 years, it also makes a great gift for all of the other bakers in your family! Just add a label and maybe a ribbon with a bow and you’re all set!