Can’t you just smell it? The info below on making your own vanilla extract comes to us from HOMEGROWN member Black Cat Cottage. Thanks, BCC! Our noses are tingling already!
HOMEMADE EXTRACTS: THE BASICS
Pure extracts pack the perfect punch in homemade goodies from cookies to cakes, but they can also pack a punch to your wallet. So why not make your own? It’s easy, and the supply list is fairly short. All you need is vodka, a key ingredient (vanilla beans, peppermint leaves, almonds), a knife, and, if you don’t plan on using the vodka bottle as your container, some glass jars.
My husband and I made a batch of vanilla extract this past Saturday, and it took less than five minutes—though you will need to let the solution sit for a while. The process doesn’t change much, no matter what raw material you use. You’ll steep your flavormaker in vodka, tweaking the soak time and the ratio of booze used. First up is vanilla extract, with notes on peppermint and almond varieties following.
HOW TO MAKE VANILLA EXTRACT
Step one is figuring out the amount of vodka and vanilla beans you need; we like three beans for every cup of vodka. Once you've figured how much extract you’d like to make, slice each bean down the middle, splitting it open to expose the seeds. Then place the beans back into the vodka bottle or into a smaller glass bottle with the vodka. Seal.
Here comes the hard part: It takes months for the vanilla to steep. They say at least three months, although six months is best. So, screw up your will power, place your bottle in a dark cupboard, remember to give it a good shake every week or so, and wait. In six months, you’ll have the most amazing vanilla extract—and plenty of it.
Once your solution has finished steeping, pour the extract through a coffee filter and funnel it into a smaller bottle or multiple bottles; we recommend dark glass jars. You can use the finished product in cakes, homemade ice cream, cookies, et cetera. Homemade extract also makes a great gift; you might want to decorate a few bottles and give them away over the holidays. Or keep it all for yourself. We won’t judge.
But don’t throw away those beans just yet! You can add more vodka and start the process all over again, since most beans can be used twice. Nice, huh? If you plan on making a lot of extract, do yourself and your wallet a favor and buy the vanilla beans in bulk. We bought bourbon Madagascar beans from a spice seller on Amazon for about $11 with free shipping, and my husband picked up the vodka on clearance for $5. So we made six cups of vanilla extract for $16. Compare that to prices in the grocery store, where you’ll pay at least $10 for a few ounces of extract, and you'll see how much the savings really add up.
HOW TO MAKE PEPPERMINT EXTRACT
The process here is nearly identical, with the main difference being the ratio of peppermint to vodka; ideal is about 1 part peppermint to 2 parts vodka. So, for a yield of half a cup of peppermint extract, you’ll need half a cup of vodka and a quarter-cup of fresh peppermint leaves. Rinse the leaves and bruise them a bit with your hands. Put the peppermint in a jar, filling until the vodka covers the leaves completely. As with the vanilla, give the jar a shake every few days; unlike the vanilla, you won’t need to wait quite so long for the leaves to steep. After a month or so, strain the leaves, pour the resulting extract into an air-tight container, and store in a cool, dark place. Your extract should stay good for about a year.
HOW TO MAKE ALMOND EXTRACT
You know the drill. Here, the ratio is about 12 raw whole almonds to 16 oz vodka. Place the almonds in a jar, fill with vodka, and close the lid. Store in a cool, dark place for about two months, shaking every few days. Strain the finished extract into a jar and store in the pantry for about a year.
BONUS IDEA: FLAVORED SUGAR
You can also use vanilla beans and other natural flavors to give extra oomph to granulated sugar. One vanilla bean should do the trick for 2 cups of sugar. As with the extract, you’ll want to slice the bean lengthwise to expose the seeds. Bury the bean in the sugar and seal tightly, letting sit for one to two weeks. Use the resulting sugar in baking, coffee, et cetera. Sweet!
Visit Black Cat Cottage for more on baking, gardening, and homesteading. Got a comment? Another extract recipe? Post it below and keep the conversation rolling. You might also check out the Homemade Tinctures 101 and the Freezing, Drying, and Storing Herbs 101. You can always find more things to cook, preserve, plant, grow, make, craft, and steep in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
PHOTOS BY BLACK CAT COTTAGE
This is such a smart idea i had never imaged i could make my own extract. I can't wait to try this. Thank you for showing me just how easy this is and how much money I'm going to save and the best part is I did it myself .
Let us know how it goes when you try it—and what you end up making/baking with the extract!
It just occurred to me - I'm making up DIY mixes for cookies, muffins, etc. When I get around to using them, I have to add vanilla extract... I'm thinking that putting a split vanilla bean in the bag for storage would do the trick. I can just recycle the bean to use again when I go to bake it. What do you think? Would this work? (Do the seeds stay in or will I end up with vanilla bean seeds in my cookies?
So what kind of things do you make with peppermint extract? I have many uses for vanilla and almond, but never have used peppermint.
Hiya. Lots of holiday candy, in particular: peppermint bark, peppermint patties. Also good in ice cream and in hot cocoa. OK. Now I'm hungry.
Ohhh! You just gave me some incredible ideas....orange extract, lemon extract, maple extract....I have an "extract" shelf I picked up, with bottles, at an auction...there is also butter rum (although I'm not sure how I could replicate THAT one!).... At least I now have a unique gift that's simple and appreciated to give my girlfriends. Thanks!
Denni Garrett - Grayfox Farm
Hi, Denni. So glad you're excited about it! Let us know what you end up making!
That last photo is a new addition from Black Cat Cottage as of 12/2012 showing the fully steeped extract. "As you can see, I've used some from time to time," BCC writes. Tall, dark, and delicious!
I made homemade vanilla extract. My stepmother was skeptical until she tried it. I also made some lemon extract that is fabulous! This year will try a cinnamon-hot pepper extract to use as a marinade....
Shellie: Lemon extract sounds magnificent! Any special secrets that deviate from the general process above?
No, none, Jennifer. I simply washed the lemon, used my vegetable peeler to take the top layer of the lemon rind, then julienned the rind, and added the vodka. I then took the lemon and sliced it and froze it for in iced tea. I let it sit for about six months, probably longer, before straining out the peel. It's lovely.