Background: I lived in Africa from 2002 to 2004 as a missionary nurse, and many of the other Americans there would talk about making their own vanilla extract. One of the European airlines, KLM I think, used to give out small bottles of vodka. I would hear ladies talk of saving this vodka and adding a vanilla bean to it for holiday baking. It intrigued me, but I never did it.
Fast forward to last October. My friend Gabriele, who can make just about anything, told me about the same. She helped me find a source for vanilla beans, and I was set. I by no means claim to be a "Vanilla Making Expert", but I'm happy to share my experience and tips.
You will need:
- Glass bottle (plastic will not work). I used a vodka bottle.
- Enough vodka to fill the glass bottle. (Don't buy the cheapest brand, but don't get the most expensive either. I used Smirnoff.)
- Vanilla beans. I got mine from a health food store. Check around your area, or there are places online that sell vanilla beans. I paid approximately $1 each.
- Small bottles with lids (I used 2 oz) for giving. I ordered from specialtybottle.com- $28 total for 30 bottles. The bottles need to be dark to protect the vanilla from light.
Vanilla beans are long and skinny- they looked like burnt asparagus to me. Before putting them in your bottle, use a knife to slit them down the middle, but not all the way through. This helps to expose all the sweet vanilla goodness in the middle of the beans. Put the beans in your empty glass bottle. Pour the vodka over the vanilla beans, until they are completely covered. Put the glass bottle in a cool, dark place for at least 2 months, or longer. The longer you let it sit, the better your vanilla will be.
Each day, more of the vodka will absorb the vanilla and the color will get darker and darker. When you are ready to share some vanilla, give the bottle a gentle shake, and pour into the smaller bottles. If you notice some grainy specs floating in the vanilla (like coffee or tea grounds), don't worry. This is normal. If you use a 750 ml bottle like me, you should have about 12-13 2 ounce bottles.
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