I've been doing quite a bit of baking in the last year and a half. One key ingredient in most of my sweets is vanilla. Just a small bottle can cost several dollars. There is imitation vanilla that costs a little less but nothing beats the real thing so I did some research and discovered that I can make my own vanilla extract at home in a process that is easy but takes some length of time, about 2 years to be exact.
The process involves simply adding vanilla beans into a bottle of alcohol. I purchased a 26 ounce bottle of vodka made locally and added two beans I found at my local grocery store. I cut the beans in half and now it appears as if there are 4 beans in the bottle. I first put them in at the end of September so it's now going on 3 months. I give the bottle a gentle shake every week or so but shaking can be deferred to once a month.
The vodka was crystal clear when I first put the beans in. You can see how it's darkened a bit. I've read that it can be ready within 6 months time but I'm patient. I'll go the full two years to get maximum extraction. After that, I should have a steady supply of vanilla in that one bottle to last several years. It's alcohol so it can sit indefinitely. The bottle will likely still have a bit of vanilla in it 10 years from now and only taste better as time goes on.
Even now, the vodka has aged more than enough that it can be used as a 'vodka shooter' or used as a mix in other drinks. I intend to use this bottle strictly as an extract for baking but I can imagine how sweet it tastes. It's a nice way to impress guests with an original cocktail drink.
For future use, I recommend saving one or two of those little vanilla bottles. Once emptied, simply wash with soap and water and store away until your vanilla is finally ready for consumption about 2 years from now. These bottles are very convenient as they are tiny and don't take up a lot of space in the cupboard.
So now, I'll wait another year and 9 months till I can finally say, 'I made my own supply of vanilla'. You can also choose a 40 ounce or higher bottle and from what I understand, you can use any alcohol but from what I've read, it appears that vodka is a primary choice. I'm sure gin would be a good choice as well.
I wasn't kidding when I said it was easy. Chop the vanilla beans into smaller pieces, throw them in the vodka bottle and give a gentle shake every once in a while for two years and presto, you've got your own vanilla extract. As I stated earlier, it takes a lot of patience but it's worth the wait. I'll give an update when my vanilla is ready.
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