It's ridiculously easy to make your own vanilla. The toughest part is the waiting.
- 3 oz. of Vanilla Beans (I get mine from Gneiss Spice)
- 1.75 liter of Vodka (I start with the cheapest vodka I can find. Look on the bottom shelf at the liquor store)
- 32 oz jar
- You can get fancy and use bourbon or other liquors, they'll just bring their own flavor notes into the mix. Vodka lets the vanilla flavor stand alone. Whatever you use, make sure it's at least 80 proof. Food grade glycerine can be used for an alcohol-free option.
The tricky part is the shelf time. At least 6 months is ideal, but there’s a shortcut that can cut the time down to 6 weeks.
To begin, you simply take your vanilla beans and slice them lengthwise to expose the teeny vanilla seeds.
Place them in a 32 oz jar and fill with vodka so all the beans are covered.
Tip: Alternatively, you can remove a bit of the vodka from the bottle and put the beans straight into the vodka bottle. This makes decanting easier later.
Top it off with an airtight lid. Make sure to write the date on the container because you will inevitably forget what date you started this whole project. Then shove the jar into a dark corner somewhere because light is not vanilla’s friend. Set some sort of reminder for 6 months later so you don’t forget about this precious gift to your future self.
Here's our new jar next to one that has been sitting for 8 months.
Unless you’re a professional baker, this will make WAY more vanilla than you can use in a timely manner. Fortunately homemade vanilla is a welcomed holiday gift.
For gifting, I decant the vanilla into 2 oz. bottles I order online. You'll want a little funnel to make this process faster and avoid wasting precious drops of vanilla.
Before pouring in the vanilla, remove the used beans from the big jar. I cut the used beans into thirds (or whatever size is small enough to fit in the bottles) and pop 2-3 pieces into each small bottle as well as a tablespoon of fresh vodka.
Now you can top off the bottles with the actual vanilla. The main batch of vanilla is fairly strong so the additional vodka will dilute it and stretch the batch a bit. It will continue to get stronger with the beans in the little bottles. The beans also take the fancy factor up a few notches and will be more impressive to the recipient than bean-less vanilla. Obviously, if you're doing all this work, you want this stuff to be as impressive as possible!
If you’re a bit crunched for time, you can still get decent vanilla in 6 weeks. Simply keep the jar in a darker corner of your kitchen and give it a shake every few days. You’ll have usable vanilla in 6 weeks time. When it’s time to decant to the smaller bottles, skip the extra vodka and definitely put all of the used beans in the smaller bottles so it will continue to get stronger as it sits in the recipient’s pantry. The big benefit to the longer storage time is strength. Vanilla will continue to get stronger the longer it’s left on the shelf, so you can use fewer beans and more vodka if you’re willing to let it sit for a year or two. As with most things, the slower method is the thriftier method.