Vanilla extract only has two ingredients: vanilla beans and vodka. Mix those together, give them some time to marry, and you have an incredibly potent elixir to bake with. If you’re going to go through the little trouble it takes to make extract, it is barely any more effort to make a big batch of it. Start that batch now, and you will have an excellent gift for friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors for the holidays. It fits into all kinds of diets, doesn’t go bad, and is one of those things that people don’t usually make so it seems more impressive than it is. To make a single batch you need a handle of vodka (nothing too fancy), about 25 vanilla beans, and some jars for gifting. The up front expense seems high (vanilla ain’t cheap), but it works out to about $5 a bottle (4 oz) for a homemade and actually useful gift. (I’ve seen nice vanilla extract go over $10 for 4 ounces.)
I follow the formula laid out here of 1 vanilla bean for every two ounces of vodka. This year I wanted to make a lot to give out, so I bought two 25 packs of beans, and two handles of vodka. The last few years I’ve used the US Kirkland Vodka from Costco, but any lower to mid-range vodka should work (not the worst, not the best). I use quart mason jars to make the measuring easy – just count fourteen beans for each jar, split them, put them in the jar, and then fill it up to the 28 oz line. A handle of vodka (750 mL) is just under 60 ounces, so that would fill two 28 oz mason and make about fourteen 4 oz bottles. This year I put fourteen beans in three quart jars and filled them, so I had about a half handle of vodka leftover from the two. I’ll use that to make a second batch with doubled-up used beans after Christmas that I can use myself. I have eight beans leftover that I’m saving for other cooking projects, as they are far cheaper bought in bulk like this.
The shortest amount of time I’ve let them sit before gifting is five weeks, but longer is better. Order beans and vodka now, put them to steep, and by the holidays you will be all ready. How is that for lazy gift making? Past years I’ve bought twelve packs of Boston round bottles which are economical and just the right size, but I’ve found they leak a bit so I’m searching for a better sealed option.
I like to check up on them and give the bottles a shake every few weeks, but that is mostly just for fun and observing the process. The change in color is dramatic, especially after the first few days. I took these photos just two days after I started my jars and look at the difference already!
So many gifts and celebrations around the holidays focus on rich foods and sweets. I like giving something that can help create decadence later on, but does not need to be consumed on top of the already collected mountain of extravagance. Someone can tuck it away in a cabinet and maybe not use it for months without the quality or usefulness being compromised. Start a batch now, and you can take care of your giving list before Halloween!