Vanilla extract being so expensive, you would think that it would be difficult to make. Not so. Making vanilla extract requires few ingredients – vanilla beans, alcohol and a glass jar – and a fair amount of time. The expense lies in that vanilla “beans” are the seedpods of an orchid. This orchid must be hand pollinated to obtain the beans that are the base of this extract we all use.
Choose dark glass bottles or jars with tight fitting lids to store your vanilla extract. Dark glass protects the extract from direct sun exposure. A tight-fitting lid or cork will keep it from evaporating from your jar.
Alcohol for the Base
It is not important what type of alcohol you use. What is important is that it is at least 80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol; a higher proof is fine as well. If it is a lower percentage, you won’t yield a good quality extract. Remember: the higher the proof, the stronger your extract.
Get the best beans you can, but remember that more expensive isn’t always better. If you are purchasing online, check product reviews for quality verses price. Also, Grade “B” (or extract grade) beans will give the most vanilla flavor per pound of beans. Remember that professional bakers use double fold extracts (see below) for better flavor.
Seeds may float in the syrupy liquid. Unless you are giving the finished product as a gift, don’t remove them – they will add more depth to the flavor over time. Also beans may be reused as long as they retain their vanilla fragrance – when they lose their scent, discard them and add fresh beans to your recipe. You may remove the beans from the alcohol base and scrape out the seeds or chop them and use them in your favorite recipes in place of the extract if you want a strong vanilla flavor. You can also dry them thoroughly and place them in a canister of sugar to make vanilla sugar. They can also be added to a bottle of olive oil or a tin of tea to flavor them, as well.
Some who make vanilla extract add sugar or corn syrup. Adding 20 percent or more sugar to freshly made extract is like fortifying any alcoholic product; it reduces the harshness of the unaged vanilla. Well-aged vanilla extract is naturally sweet, so this step isn’t necessary.
Single Fold vs. Double Fold and Stronger Extracts
Single fold vanilla extract (written 1X) is the standard concentrate of pure vanilla extract. Double fold (2X) is twice as strong. This means that twice as many beans were used than are generally used in single fold extracts. These concentrations can go up to 20X, but they are not considered stable after 4X. In candy making, where liquids can change the chemistry of the finished product, multi-fold concentrations are very useful. Any of these recipes can be made into multifold extracts by increasing the number of beans used. Below are several recipes; you can try them and choose your favorite.
- Place one vanilla bean into a pint of vodka.
- Store in cool, dark place.
- Shake daily for two weeks.
- Slit three vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape out the seeds.
- Place the beans and seeds into a bottle of dark rum (.750 liter).
- Let stand in cool, dark place for three weeks. Shake daily.
- Pour ½ cup vodka or white tequila into small saucepan.
- Heat until it smokes but doesn’t boil.
- Break two vanilla beans in pieces and place into a glass bottle or jar.
- Pour the alcohol into the jar and cover tightly.
- Let sit for a week, shaking frequently.
- Split seven vanilla beans lengthwise with a sharp knife.
- Add these to .750 liter bottle rum, vodka, everclear, scotch, or brandy.
- Let stand three to four weeks, shaking often.
- To replenish supply, when bottle is ¼ full, add three or four more beans and refill with alcohol.
- Split three beans lengthwise with sharp knife to expose seeds.
- Place split beans into an eight-ounce jar and fill with one cup of rum or vodka. Seal tightly.
- Shake vigorously a few times. Store in a cool, dark place.
- Let jar rest in the dark for eight weeks, shaking once or twice weekly – or whenever you remember it. Extract will get darker as it ages.
- You can start using it after eight weeks. When you begin to run low (20 percent or more used) top the jar off with more alcohol – preferably the same type used to begin with – and shake again. Add fresh bean to the jar every few months. Continuing to add alcohol and fresh beans this way will enable the extract to keep forever; just remove older beans to keep jar from over crowding.
- Cut four beans lengthwise with sharp knife. Cut bean halves into ½ inch to ¾ inch pieces.
- Pour ½ pint of vodka or dark rum into a container.
- Add bean pieces to alcohol and shake.
- Store in cool, dark place for thirty days to mature extract, shaking vigorously once each day.
- After thirty days, strain through tea strainer or coffee filter and place in decorative bottle.
- Pour one cup of brandy into a glass jar.
- Split one vanilla bean and add to the brandy.
- Let sit three weeks, shaking well daily.
- Pour one cup of vodka, brandy, or pure vanilla extract into a glass jar.
- Add two or three tablespoons of light corn syrup.
- Finely chop three or more vanilla beans and add to jar.
- Store in a cool dark place for at least three weeks, shaking daily.
- As the contents of the jar are used, occasionally refill the jar with more alcohol and a bit more corn syrup. About once yearly, add more finely chopped beans.