Over the years, I have begun to make or bake many of my own things for our family. I bake our bread for sandwiches, make yogurt, soap, jams, pickles, household cleaners etc. Some of these I make because it's less expensive than buying it from the store, or because it tastes/works better, or just because I enjoy the process. Making my own vanilla extract fits just about all of these categories.
For the last few years, I have made a big batch of vanilla extract at the end of each summer so that it will be ready in time for the Christmas baking season. One year, I made a doubly big batch so that we would have some to give as gifts at Christmas. Giving someone homemade vanilla along with your favorite recipe to use the vanilla is a perfect gift. And, it's so easy to make!
You can purchase vanilla beans from many online retailers, and that is how I recommend you find your vanilla beans. Many grocery stores sell them, but they are quite expensive if you go this route. I bought a package of ten, grade B Madagascar vanilla beans from Amazon for about $23. This is enough to make 16 ounces of vanilla extract. The price of vanilla beans fluctuates, but most run about this price.
You will also need some vodka for the extract. I don't spend a lot of money on this purchase. If you plan on drinking the leftover vodka after you pour what you need for your vanilla, you may want to splurge for a nicer brand. The cost for 16 ounces of the vodka I purchased was $6.50. It may seem that these two ingredients make this project quite expensive, but the reality is you are saving money. For this batch of vanilla extract (16 ounces total), I spent $29.50. A 4 ounce jar of pure vanilla extract at my local grocery store is $16.89. Can you see the difference? If I had bought the equivalent 16 ounces from the grocery store, I would have spent $67.56!
So how do you make this lovely concoction for your own use or for gifts? It's simple. Cut your vanilla beans into one inch pieces. You will use five vanilla beans for every 8 ounces of vodka. I split my ten vanilla beans between two 8 ounce jars. Place the beans in the bottom of the jar, pour in 8 ounces of vodka, and put a lid on it. You're done with the hands on part. Now just shake the jar every couple of days (or, if you're like me, whenever you remember to do it) and wait 8 weeks. Once the beans have soaked in the vodka for at least 8 weeks, it is finished. Various websites say you can use a little less or a little more vanilla beans with the 8 ounces of vodka, and I have found that 5 is just right. Fewer than that and the vanilla extract is too week, more than that and the cost per ounce goes up.
If you plan on making this as a gift, you may want to pour your finished vanilla into smaller jars. You have about ten weeks until Christmas, so just enough time to order some vanilla beans and make this simple gift! And if you need a recipe to use some of the vanilla you make, I suggest my Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe!