I love the smell of real vanilla! Our family used to travel the two hours or so to Tijuana Mexico to purchase real vanilla at a fraction of the cost from a supermarket in our area. Besides, who doesn't love to spend a day in Tijuanna? (There's shops to visit, street tacos to eat, music, and kind people) I dreamed about someday making my own vanilla....
Someday arrived years later shortly after we moved from California to Washington. I did plenty of research and found that vanilla is made from a short list of two ingredients. Yes, two! Alcohol and vanilla beans. A few friends asked exactly how I made my vanilla, so here I am sharing what I have learned.
Vanilla beans come from a variety of different countries, and each variety produces a slightly different taste. I opted for the very vanilla flavor and purchased whole Tahitian vanilla beans from a grocer on Amazon. The Mexican beans were more than I wanted to spend on my first time of making vanilla. Tahitian vanilla beans go well with vodka. Madagascar vanilla beans (currently sold at Costco) are better paired with bourbon. (That will be my next experiement!)
The next step is to add the alcohol. Surprisingly, the vodka (or bourbon) does not have to be a quality one. Actually, the cheaper the better, or so they say. I purchased a big plastic bottle from Walmart for about 12.00. You do want it to be at least 80 proof alcohol. You don't need to measure, but just pour the vodka so that they are covering all of the beans.
Cover your jar with a tight lid, write the date on the top, and put your jar on a shelf in your pantry. I also put a post a note on the top as to the date when it should be ready. Then you wait. Yes, you wait for 4 to 6 weeks! Each week, pick one day to shake your jar. You just want the vanilla beans and vodka to know you are still there. Meaning, you don't need to shake it vigoriously!
You will need to be the judge of when your vanilla is ready to use. Check at the four week mark. If you smell more vanilla than alcohol, then it is ready to use. If it still has a strong alcohol smell, leave it for another two weeks and then check it again.
You can use your vanilla for all types of baking and cooking. Just use like the store-bought option. Equal amounts - 1 tsp. store-bought vanilla = 1 tsp. of homemade vanilla.
Here's the fun part....Your vanilla NEVER expires! When your alcohol gets a little lower than the top of the vanilla beans, add in more vodka and let it sit for a couple of weeks. That's why I have two jars. After I refill one, I use the other jar; and then keep switching them up.
After a while (maybe 3 months?) you may want to refresh your vanilla beans. You can do this two ways: either add more, newly purchased beans, or replace all the beans completely. Be sure to let it sit a bit before you use it so that the vodka can soack up that fabulous vanilla flavor.
These make great gifts! When I do gift vanilla, I usually put it in a cute skinny jar with a bean to two. This would make it a few-times use, as I don't give the instructions to add more vodka. I figured that might freak some people out!
I always remember a comment my brother made when he bit into one of my cookies years ago, He said, "Ooh! You used Mexican vanilla didn't you?" And I must say, there IS something extra special about homemade vanilla! Mexican Vanilla Beans is on my radar next....