Bear with me for a second. You may think I am crazy, already talking about Christmas in August, but there is a good reason behind this madness! End of the year holidays mean lots of baking, and with that an unusual amount of vanilla extract buying. This can get pricey, especially when you live in Asia, where good quality vanilla extract is hard to come by! I have come up with my own way of making vanilla extract at home. It takes about 2-3 months, but you have absolutely nothing to do during this time, other than look at the extract turning darker every day. This is why I say, get started now, and for your next holiday baking marathon you will have plenty of vanilla extract to go around.
Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron. Vanilla beans are long, dark pods, which are the fruit of the vanilla orchid plant. Although native to Mexico, Indonesia and Madagascar are the biggest growers of vanilla beans today. Vanilla is used for flavoring chocolates, baked goods, as well as high end savory dishes.
The crucial difference between vanilla essence and extract:
If you are no novice to baking recipes, you may have wondered what the difference between vanilla essence and extract is - and you have probably been using them interchangeably. Here is a quick rundown:
If you have used both, you may not notice a big difference in the taste of the final product, but your purse will definitely know the difference. Vanilla essence is much cheaper, sometimes as much as 10 times cheaper. There is a good reason for this! Vanilla essence is made artificially, using chemicals to recreate the vanilla flavor. No real vanilla pods are used in the making of vanilla essence, but instead wood scraps, rice bran, coal-tar or beaver scent glands (yes, you read that right!) are used to draw out the artificial vanilla taste.
Vanilla extract on the other hand is made from real vanilla beans. The vanilla flavor is either extracted through alcohol or water.
Here is the confusing part: in real good baking stores, vanilla essence can also mean a stronger version of vanilla extract, not the artificial kind. To make sure you always have good quality vanilla around, make sure the bottle never says anything about artificial or vanilla flavor. It should always have vanilla beans as part of the ingredient list.
Make it yourself
Making your own vanilla extract is super easy. You only need good quality vanilla beans and some clear alcohol (like vodka). That’s right, raid your liquor cabinet! Or - like in my case - get a bottle of vodka just for this recipe.
The great thing about making your own vanilla extract is that you will never run out. Every time you use a little bit, you just top up your jar again with the vodka. I go through a bottle of vodka a year - can you imagine if I had spent that much on buying vanilla extract?!?!
When picking your vanilla beans, they should be soft and very dark with a shiny film. Stay away from the dried out ones, they will not have a lot flavor left in them!
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Marinating time: 2-3 months
4 vanilla beans
vodka (gin or rum also work)
a small jar
Slice the vanilla beans open lengthways without letting any of the vanilla seeds ooze out.
Then place them in the jar, top with vodka, and close the lid.
Keep in a cool, dry place (like the back of your kitchen cupboard) for the next few months.
Bonus note: If you do use vanilla beans for other recipes, keep the scraped out beans and add them to your vanilla extract jar to intensify flavor. That way you don’t have to waste them! Also, think about making this as your Christmas present this year. Super easy!