A little while ago, I stumbled upon the most informative and stunningly beautiful post ever on the art of making pure homemade vanilla extract.
Of course, I’d bookmarked it so I could eventually share it with you…
The only problem is, now that I am ready to share, I can’t seem to find that bookmark anywhere.
I even remember tweeting it that day when I read it. I tried finding that, but tweets being very ephemeral in nature, they are very hard to track back after a certain (as in VERY short) time.
Well, at least, I memorized the essential parts of that article, at least I think I did.
So here goes.
First and foremost, you need to use LOTS of vanilla beans. Anything less than 8 beans to a cup of vodka and you’re only making “Vanilla Flavored Vodka”.
Aaaaah, so that’s why I’d never really been super impressed with home made vanilla extract in the past. Vanilla beans being so expensive, I never used much more than 3-4 beans to a cup and a half vodka.
Then one day, I realized that vanilla beans could be purchased online for a MUCH better price. There are plenty of great resources where you can buy the precious scented beans in bulk.
Oh! The joy!
I now buy my vanilla by the pound and, while the initial investment might be a little steep, the price per bean gets considerably lowered, so much so I can now use vanilla in pretty much anything I fancy… from nut butter to smoothies!
Never, in the past, would I have even considered using a $4 vanilla bean in a smoothie. But lower that price tag down to something like ¢50? I say just just throw it right in.
Even half of one could do the job, but I love those little black specks so much… I just can’t get enough!
And have you ever tried shoving your nose into a bag full of fresh vanilla beans?
OH! THE SMELL!!! TOTAL, COMPLETE BLISS, I TELL YOU!
Alright, let’s get back to that awesome article, shall we? Another thing it did mention is that you should never heat your vodka when you make vanilla extract. Why is that, you ask? Hmpft. I wish I remembered… But it made perfect sense, I swear!
Hey, don’t give me a hard time, alright? I said I only remembered the essential, didn’t I? 😉
Now, I’d been meaning to make this batch of vanilla absolutely gluten free (I started it during Lent, you see) but unfortunately, I was unable to get my hands on a suitable non-grain vodka. They didn’t carry ANY at my local liquor store.
Also, it is said that the distillation process removes all traces of gluten from alcohol, but there is much debate about whether this is true or not.
So if you really are truly gluten intolerant, or if you’re a real purist, or if you’re simply a tad crazy and determined not to cheat on your Lent challenge like I was and want to make your vanilla extract absolutely, indubitably gluten free, well, all you need to do is find a vodka that’s not made from grains.
Did you know that they actually made vodka not only from potatoes, but also from grapes, soybeans and even beets?
I didn’t even known that before I started looking for gluten free vodka. Not too suprisingly, they didn’t carry that either at my local liquor store. … hopefully you’ll have more luck finding it than I did!
Oh, right… one more thing!
No one says you HAVE to use vodka. It would be the most “neutral” choice, but you could very well choose to go with rum or bourbon… Needless to say the resulting flavor would be extremely different, but very interesting nonetheless, especially for those sweet tasting dishes, you know.
I’ve never tried it personally, but I get the feeling that I will…
- 8 vanilla beans (or more, if you like)
- 1 cup good quality vodka (use vodka made from potatoes or other non-grain vodka if you want to go gluten-free)
- Mason jars or decorative bottles
- Cut the vanilla beans to the length of your jar (you want to make sure they're all fully covered) and slice them lengthwise, but only through half of it. You want to expose the seeds but keep the ends attached.
- Place beans in the selected jar(s) or bottle(s) and completely cover with vodka.
- Place the lid on and shake gently. Put away in a cool, dark place (such as your cupboard!) and give it a couple of gentle shakes each day for about a week or so. You can also leave your bottles on the counter at this time if it helps you remember.
- After a week has passed, you can start shaking less often, like once or twice a week, for about a month. And don't worry, your vanilla isn't going to be ruined if you forget to shake it a few times.
- Your vanilla will be ready to use after 6 to 8 weeks, but I like to wait at least 3 months before I use mine. Just make sure you give it a little shake once in a while...
- When your bottle is about 25% empty, you can top it off with more vodka without affecting the taste too much, but ideally, when you do that, you want to let is sit again for a couple of weeks. That's why I prefer to have 2 bottles going simultaneously. That way, when I top one off, I can use the other one until it too, needs to be topped off, at which point I switch back to the other one. This allows your vanilla to rest without you having to ever hang dry!
- Of course, you can't just top off forever... else you're going to end up with that Vanilla Flavored Vodka again... When you find that your vanilla starts to be a little weak on the vanilla side and a little strong on booze, it's time to get a new batch started and let those bottles you already have go completely dry...
Start with a whole bunch of fresh vanilla beans and good quality vodka
Slit vanilla beans, stuff them into pretty bottles, top with vodka…
Shake gently, wait patiently, and be greatly rewarded!