I've been buying RIDICULOUSLY expensive Organic Fairtrade Madagascar Vanilla Extract from Whole Foods for... like $18 for a tiny little 4 oz. bottle. It basically would kill me every single time to buy the darned thing; but I swear it makes a huge difference in baked goods. I'd put it in the cart all quick-like and buy it with the rest of my groceries; refusing to allow myself to re-consider.
I'd never really paused to think about what vanilla is or how it's made. Up until I switched to organic ~7 years ago I would buy the cheap "imitation" vanilla. I definitely don't know what's in that and honestly don't want to know.
So anyway, we go on a family trip to visit our old Navy buddies and my girlfriend Adrian gave me a bottle of vanilla that she'd made herself. She packaged it up all cute and had given it to friends/family over the holidays. I was very impressed and so excited to use it in my next recipe! She told me how she did it- you just buy vanilla beans and soak them in alcohol for a few months and that's it! My mind was totally blown.
So I took it home and gave it a shot.... drum roll.... It was fantastic! Awesome! Just as good as the expensive stuff; except even better because it was made with looove. :) So, I was HOOKED!
I went through the bottle pretty quickly and wanted to refill my next supply myself. So I decided to get started on my own home-brewed batch. First things first, I went to Costco and bought a big jug of the cheapest vodka Costco has. I felt a little embarrassed since I'm over the age of 23 and I'm pretty sure they thought my next stop would be the Jello Mix Aisle or to buy ping pong balls or something. Note on the alcohol: I thought about using Grey Goose and making it all fancy, but I read up on it and apparently the quality of vodka really doesn't make a difference. Then I went on amazon and ordered myself some Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans.
Once the vanilla beans arrived I sliced them in half without finishing the cut so that it looked like a chicken bone. I read that this step isn't really necessary, but it makes the vanilla beans look cute in the bottle so I went for it. I'm assuming the point is to allow the vanilla escape and permeate the vodka a little faster.
The rule of thumb is that for every 8 oz of vodka, you add 3-4 whole beans. So you can scale the recipe to as much as you want. I bought a huge package of beans so I could make a big 36 oz batch of vanilla.
Rummage through your kitchen and find a large glass bottle with a tight fitting lid. A mason jar works or something like THIS. Make sure the vanilla beans are completely covered in vodka; cut them in half if you need to make them shorter. And that's it. You store it somewhere cool/dark - so basically just don't put it on the window sill. Once a week you need to shake it up for a second until it's "done" (6-8 weeks). The longer you let it brew, the stronger the vanilla.
When you're ready to bottle it you just pour it through a typical mesh strainer to remove the pieces and any large sediment. Pour the vanilla through a funnel into glass bottles like these that I ordered on Amazon.
To finish the project off I made super labels for my vanilla bottles following the instructions on happymoneysaver.com. I wouldn't really recommend though. The labels printed all skewed, the burlap unravels, and the glue didn't work well at all. It did still end up pretty cute though...
I leave it to you to label your bottle - you can be as simple or crafty with labeling as you'd like. Use burlap, ribbon, twine, a label maker- go cray cray.
Hope you enjoy!
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