homemade vanilla extract and vanilla sugar

Did you know that Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron? Vanilla is a member of the orchid family and the vanilla flower is the only one of  close to 10,000 species of orchids to produce an edible product.  Growing the vanilla pods is a labor intensive process and this is one of the reasons that “real” Vanilla extract is expensive.  But why not make your own and buy the best beans that you can afford?  My sister, Chrissie, asked me to make her some for her upcoming birthday and I was only too happy to oblige.  It got me thinking … with the baking season upon us I thought it might be worth reposting my blog on DIY Vanilla Extract.  It does require some time to “cure” on your pantry shelf so if you plan on giving it for a holiday gift – the time to create is now.  Enjoy the repost from February 2011 … it is a great gift for any season.

diy: Vanilla Valentine

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and if you are looking for a sweet gift to make for your “food-loving-valentine” than this is a delight to make. It is oh-so-pretty in it’s presentation and it is also the kind of gift that keeps on giving. Vanilla extract is particularly easy to make or should I say “assemble”. It is a wonder that more people don’t make it themselves instead of buying the expensive supermarket substitutes that quite frankly – are not so good. This does require a small amount of patience as the extract does have to sit on a shelf for approximately 2 months before it is ready yet it will only improve with age (like a fine wine) and it has an indefinite shelf life.

Flask Bottles from The Concord Shop

You will need some pretty bottles to hold your liquid gold or vanilla extract. I found these lovely flask bottles for $4.99 a piece at my favorite kitchen store, The Concord Shop. You can get large bottles and then decant to smaller bottles if you are giving them out as gifts or you can start with a bottle that holds about a cup of liquid – a nice size for a generous gift of vanilla extract.

Gather your Ingredients

The ingredients for vanilla extract are few and fairly easy to source. A liter of premium vodka, a small bottle of your favorite dark rum (optional) and good quality vanilla beans. Remember quality always counts in cooking. Always use wine and liquor that you would drink in your cooking – it ensures that the taste of your finished dish will be superb. The same goes for making vanilla extract – use only premium liquor and vanilla beans and your gift will be a luxurious treat.

Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans

I am using Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans that I purchased at Whole Foods Market. The “bourbon” in these vanilla beans refers to the Bourbon Islands in Madagascar and not the liquor.

Vanilla Beans in Bottles

Clean your bottles before you use them. I run them through a full cycle in the dishwasher. Split your vanilla beans from top to bottom with a sharp knife and place three beans in each of your bottles. You will be using three vanilla beans to every one cup of vodka (or other liquor).

Vanilla Extract by Me for You!

Use a funnel to pour one cup of vodka into each flask. (if you prefer to use rum instead of vodka you can). I am also adding one teaspoon of dark rum to each as well. The usual recipe that I use is 1 cup of vodka to every 3 vanilla beans. In the book, Gifts Cooks Love by Diane Morgan, she recommends using a dash of dark rum – so I think I’ll try it for this batch. Seal your bottles and then the fun stuff begins – presentation! You know that presentation is everything to me …

Preparing a wax seal for my bottles

I really want my gifts to look thoughtful and let’s face it – a little decadent. I am going to put a wax seal on each of the bottles to elevate my simple gift. I am using a stick of sealing wax, a votive candle to melt the wax on a spoon and a wax seal to press into the melted wax. Even though a wax seal seems to be from a bygone era – you can still purchase the seals and the wax sticks at quality stationary stores. Paper Source, a favorite of mine, has many seals to choose from as well as a plethora of colored wax. You can even put the wax sticks into a glue gun to make it that much easier. I am sitting in my kitchen and have a votive candle at hand, so I am going to do it the old fashioned way …

Glue Dots

I am laying out a sheet of glue dots so I can make a sheet of wax seals that I can use not only for my bottles but for my valentine cards and some future art projects that I’m planning. You will pour your melted wax onto each glue dot and then press your wax seal into the wax for about 30 seconds. Gently remove your seal when the wax has cooled and hardened. Your seal will remain on the glue dots and can be peeled off when needed. It’s back will be sticky from the dot and you’ll be able to place it anywhere.

Seal placed on Glue Dot
Strip of Wax Seals

I will use the wax seals for my bottled vanilla extract gifts and will also save some for future projects. They are a great finishing touch for all your gifts or special cards. You may want to add a dab of glue to the back of the seal if you are using it on a bottle so that you can be sure that it will hold otherwise the glue dot is strong enough for an envelope or paper box.

Vanilla Extract with Seal

Tie some twine or ribbon around the neck of the bottle and press the seal (I placed a dab of super glue) onto the bottle.

Ready for Gift Giving

Do the same for all the bottles that you plan to give as gifts …

Tag on Bottle

You will want to tie a small tag to the flask giving the date that the Extract was bottled. Your vanilla extract will be ready in approximately 2 months from the day it was bottled. As I said earlier in the post, that vanilla extract improves with age. The longer it is on the shelf, the darker it will get and the stronger the vanilla extract will become. You want to give it at least 2 months to cure. Once a week, you will want to give the vanilla extract a gentle shake to mix the ingredients that settle to the bottom. Because of the high alcohol content in all pure vanilla extracts, it’s shelf life is indefinite. You need only to pour more vodka into the bottle when you want to replace the extract that you have used up.

Nelley Kelley Valentines

Use your extra seals to decorate the envelopes of your valentines cards.

Sweets for the Sweet

This is a wonderfully easy project to take get you through these next months of winter. What a sweet surprise to be able to use it come Springtime. This is a thoughtful gift anytime of the year not just for Valentines Day. Make some now and store it away so you can give it as a hostess gift or a Mother’s Day gift this May. Make some for yourself – you will never go back to buying expensive and tasteless vanilla extract again. Use this in your morning oatmeal or in your banana breads and cookie recipes. Elevate a Creme Brule with your homemade vanilla extract. You can even soak a cotton ball in vanilla extract and place it in a little container at the back of your refrigerator to eliminate odors. Plan on making some in the Fall so you can give them out as your holiday gift.

Wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day!

see you soon

11 thoughts on “a vanilla do it yourself …

  1. Chrissy Kelley says:

    Thanks for reposting this – I recalled the process from your earlier blog but misplaced the actual steps – looking forward to having a pretty bottle of vailla extract in my pantry soon! BTW, Love the new blog format and easy access to adding replies (your last blog had such great tips). I’m sure this will not be my last comment! Aprons soon?

    • Ellen McHale says:

      Hi Chrissy,
      I thought it was a perfect time to get this diy out before the holiday baking season begins in earnest. The vanilla will be ready in two months time but you may not want to open the bottle because it is so pretty. Aprons are coming soon – you will love them! I’m also thankful to you for your comments – they are truly appreciated and help me to set the tone for future blogs. xo Ellen

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  3. Ellen says:

    Hi Ellen, I’m a Ellen, too~
    and I use~ a lot, lol

    I love Vanilla and all the memories attached, to this magic elixir~
    Thank you for sharing this is a wonderful idea! I love the wax seal and the personal touches, that add to the magic of your gift 😀

    Nice to meet you~

    • Ellen McHale says:

      Hi Ellen
      Nice to meet you too ~ and I like that you use this ~ a lot. I guess I do too. I love coming up with special gift ideas but I think I love the personal touches like the strings, tags, wrappings and packaging even more. To me, the extra time spent on the presentation makes the gift something of an event and to me that is just lovely. Thanks for reading and for saying hello.

  4. Valerie Thayer says:

    El – I just made five bottles of this beautiful vanilla. It was so easy and fun – a good creative break from it all. Thanks for posting this (and cheers to my brain for remembering you had!!!).

    • Ellen McHale says:

      Hi Val – I’m so happy that you found it and made it. I still have a fantastic stash from last year and it is amazing. I am still packing it up to give as gifts. Enjoy it. Hope to see you soon. xo

  5. Pingback: Homemade Vanilla Extract | The Kitchen Scout

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