Making Homemade Vanilla Extract

Discussion in 'Desserts' started by noboundaries, Apr 25, 2015.

  1. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    My wife and I love vanilla.  We didn't understand how incredible vanilla can be until we visited Mexico for the first time and tasted their pure and traditional vanillas.  Since then we've been hooked on really good vanilla.  We have inexpensive source for "traditional" vanilla, a type of vanilla that is made from the vanillan crystals that form when vanilla beans are fermented then dried in the sun.  (Yes, there is an "n" on the end of the word).  It has a very low alcohol content and can be used without baking off the alcohol.  We use it in drinks, on ice cream, sweet rice, etc.  We can get it locally for $7 per liter.

    While researching vanilla extracts recently I learned how easy it is to make pure vanilla extract.  I bought 1/4 lb of dried Madagascar vanilla beans from Amazon ($20) and a 750 ml bottle of decent quality but inexpensive 80 proof vodka ($10) from Total Wine and More.  I chopped the beans into 1/2 inch pieces, poured about 2 ounces out of the bottle, then I put the chopped vanilla beans right in the bottle.  I shook it up and took the first picture below. 

    The process involves shaking the bottle once daily and keeping it in a cabinet.  The pure vanilla extract will be ready in a month to use in baking.  Proponents say by 3 months you have an unbelievably complex and nectar-of-the-gods vanilla extract.

    This morning was the 7th day of shaking.  I opened the bottle to smell what I had and OMG it was the most amazing smelling vanilla!  I can hardly wait three more weeks to try it in baking, probably something simple first like a sugar cookie where the vanilla can really shine. 

    The second picture is what it looked like after 7 days.  I'll keep posting this as I take pictures and eventually use the vanilla. 

    Have a GREAT day!


    chefbowpro and waterinholebrew like this.
  2. litterbug

    litterbug Smoke Blower

    Interesting, I'll be watching.
  3. bluewhisper

    bluewhisper Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Looks good! I did pretty much the same thing with cloves and vodka plus a little bit of liquid soap and baby oil -  it serves well as an insect repellent.
  4. What do you strain it through when it's finished? if at all ?

  5. Gonna be some good tasting vodka when your all done too, lol!!
  6. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    If you want to strain it a coffee filter was suggested  You can also just leave it as is and add additional beans and vodka as you use it. 

    If it turns out as good as I think it will, we will make more, strain it and put it in smaller bottles to give as gifts at Christmas.  This first bottle was just an experiment; so far so good.     
  7. Thanks that is kinda what I was thinking 

  8. litterbug

    litterbug Smoke Blower

    Do the beans just impart their flavor or do they also dissolve somewhat? Is straining necessary or just an option? Would you be willing to still do shots after it is done and ready or would this be too vanillaie?
  9. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Do the beans impart flavor?   Absolutely.  You can use any 70-80 proof alcohol, but a neutral grain like vodka is recommended to start.  The alcohol draws the flavors out of the dried beans.  The flavors in the dried beans is very intense.

    Do they dissolve somewhat?  It appears so.  There are more and more little flecks appearing in the liquid as it is shaken daily.  I suspect that shaking has a lot to do with the beans breaking down.

    Is straining necessary or just an option?   It is optional.  You can leave the beans and the flecks in the liquid.  They will appear in your baked goods so if that isn't an issue, don't bother straining.

    Would I be willing to do shots?   Nope.  If you've ever tasted pure vanilla extract it is the absolute foulest tasting stuff you can put in your mouth unless you add a sweetener like simple syrup, honey, agave, etc.  This bottle will be used for baking only, but I might try mixing some with simple syrup because we always keep a bottle in the fridge.  I just poured about an eighth of an inch of the working extract in a shot glass to see what it tasted like after a week of soaking.  It was bitter and disgusting, but the taste of vanilla was definitely present in a big way after only a week.  The smell is phenomenal and there was no taste of vodka at all.  When you bake with pure vanilla extract all the liquid and alcohol bakes off, leaving just the vanilla essence.  The sugars and ingredients in the baked goods counter the bitterness.  The extract is so powerful that you only need small amounts for a single cake, pie, or cookie recipe, usually one tablespoon or less.    
    pj campbell likes this.
  10. GaryHibbert

    GaryHibbert Smoking Guru OTBS Member ★ Lifetime Premier ★

    That looks good, Ray.  Amazing how much color change there was almost immediately.  

    You're absolutely right about Mexican vanilla--nothing better.

    I think I would be starting a second bottle right away and then leave it for the full 3 months, as you enjoy the first one.

  11. waterinholebrew

    waterinholebrew Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member


    My wife & I had a similar interest a while back & we've been making our own vanilla for the last 5-6 years using a very similar procedure.... It's tasty stuff !

  12. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thanks Gary.  I'll definitely use Mexican vanilla beans next round and let them age for 3 months. 

    BTW, when I was sipping the little bit from the shot glass the other day I got some on my mustache.  I had vanilla aromatherapy for about two hours! 
  13. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thanks Justin!  Glad to know there are other vanilla folks here.  The thumbs up is much appreciated too! 

  14. welshrarebit

    welshrarebit Master of the Pit

    I've never used Mexican vanilla before... We always use Tahitian vanilla beans here!
  15. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    That makes sense in Hawaii.  Cost was a big part of the decision for this first go-round.  Madagascar was the least expensive.  The label says Madagascar Bourbon beans, but Bourbon is not the liquor.  It is named after a place, an island next to Madagascar (Réunion, Île Bourbon).  Here is what one website said was the difference between the vanilla beans:
    • Bourbon Vanilla - mild, well balanced
    • Madagascar Vanilla - rich and creamy
    • Mexican Vanilla - bold, dark, smokey
    • Indian Vanilla - full, chocolate
    • Tahitian Vanilla - floral, cherry-chocolate
    • Tonga Vanilla - earthy, fig, raisin
  16. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Day 18.  We were getting ready to leave town for a short vacation on Day 14 so I was too busy to take pics.  Got back today and took this pic.  Still getting darker.  Clouding up a little.  And the aroma, wow!  It has actually been interesting smelling the changes as much as it has been seeing the changes.  Early on there was a hint of alcohol with the vanilla.  That went away and was replaced by a very clean vanilla aroma.  Then it went through an aroma phase that I really didn't care for all that much.  Can't explain it really but it smelled disappointing, like it had some foreign substance in it that was replacing the vanilla aroma.  That changed and now it is more complex; a very strong vanilla aroma with a hint of sweet spices.   This has been more fun than I imagined. 

  17. noboundaries

    noboundaries Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    The vanilla project is still ongoing.  Day 66 as of today. 

    Exactly a month ago we baked two batches of vanilla butter cookies, one using this homemade vanilla and one using a store bought Traditional Mexican vanilla that I can get quite inexpensively at a local Mexican grocer.  The Mexican vanilla won the comparison hands down. 

    The homemade vanilla at 36 days just didn't have the vanilla flavor depth we enjoy.  Frankly, at 36 days it didn't look much different than the Day 18 picture above.  I set it aside and haven't touched the bottle to shake it since.

    Today, at 66 days, I pulled the bottle down out of the cabinet.  It was much darker, more opaque, and the aroma was significantly better.  I'll let it sit another month then re-run the cookie comparison.  Still deciding if this is worth the effort.  We'll know in a month. 

    leah elisheva likes this.
  18. In my business(chocolate), I work with all kinds of vanilla beans daily, mostly Tahitian and Madagascar. In making our extract, I find it is best to open the container occasionally to release some of the alcohol. This reduces the alcohol intensity and flavor from the extract through evaporation. Once in a while, after a noticeable amount of evaporation, I top off the container with a good quality vodka. Our vanilla extract has no alcohol smell and the vanilla aroma fills the room whenever my gf opens the jar and uses it in her baking.

    Personally, I don't use vanilla extract, or any extracts, in any of my products, only whole bean vanilla. I find the flavor profile of the extract has a sheer and sudden dropoff from the alcohol. Using whole bean vanilla creates a floral aroma in your sinuses and a flavor on your palate that enhances a very balanced flavor transition from one layered flavor to the next.

    Have you ever tried using vanilla beans that have naturally opened on the plant before they are dried?

    Pics of our homemade vanilla extract, going on 5+ years in the jar.

  19. How fantastic! This is amazing to see and I LOVE Vanilla!! 

    What a magnificent post! I love this site and learn so much from all!

    Cheers and happy new week! - Leah
  20. Vanilla sugar is another fun way to be creative with vanilla beans. Adds a subtle, yet noticeable flavor, into the sugar.

    I place 25-30 organic vanilla beans into a lb or so of organic evaporated cane juice in a glass container. Place the container in the window to let the sun heat the vanilla beans and they release their essential oils into the sugar.
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2015

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