How to Make Vanilla Extract at Home: The Hot Method
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Homemade vanilla extract is an easy, fun thing you can make yourself! It makes a great gift and tastes much better than store-bought vanilla (isn’t that how it always is?). While homemade vanilla extract is easy to make, it does require quite a bit of time to infuse (at least 12 weeks). I use a method known as the “hot method” simply because I think it makes the vanilla flavor more intense.
What You Need
To make your own homemade vanilla extract, you need only four items:
- a sterile jar (at least quart size) with a cover
- 750 ml of vodka or rum (it doesn’t have to be fancy stuff)
- 1-2 ounces of vanilla beans
- small jars for your final product (especially if you plan to gift the vanilla)
For vanilla extract, you can use Grade B vanilla beans. There are different grades depending on what you want to use the vanilla for. Grade A beans are the fancier kind and normally used for baking. For this particular recipe, I used Grade B “bits.” These are broken pieces of beans instead of the whole bean. It is up to you whether you use one or two ounces for the extract. There are about 12 beans per ounce. Because vanilla can be a bit pricey, I only use one ounce but this may mean that my vanilla takes longer to infuse the full flavor into the alcohol.
Vanilla beans can often be found in bulk at your grocery or health foods store, or you can buy them online. I belong to a vanilla bean co-op on Facebook. It’s an amazing place to get beans at a great price. You can find the group here! The beans aren’t always available, so Amazon is another great resource for them.
Step One: Heat the Alcohol
For the hot method, you gently heat up the vodka (or rum) on the stove. The warm liquid helps the vanilla bean “open up,” creating a deeper flavor.
Pour the alcohol into a pot with the heat set on low. Heat it until it just begins to steam and there are bubbles on the bottom of the pan.
**You do not have to heat up your alcohol to make vanilla extract. It simply speeds up the process and develops the flavor more**
While this is happening, put your vanilla beans in your sterile jar.
Step Two: Prepare your Vanilla Beans
If you are using vanilla bean bits, you will simply put these in the jar and pour your alcohol over them. However, if you are using whole beans or if your bits are bigger, you will want to slice them lengthwise to expose all of the yummy vanilla insides of the bean, and probably cut them into a few pieces to fit into your jar. This will help to infuse the liquid more fully.
Step Three: Pour Alcohol over the Vanilla Beans
After you have heated your alcohol, pour it over the beans. I used my canning funnel because I am terrible at pouring.
Step Four: Cool
Place the lid on the jar without sealing and let the mixture cool on the counter for a bit. If you screw the lid on tight while the alcohol is hot, you risk the chance of the jar self-sealing.
Step Four: Cover & Store you Homemade Vanilla
Once the mixture is cool, twist the lid tight and place in a cool, dark space like a cabinet or pantry. Every couple of days, take it out and give it a gentle shake.
Step Five: Wait 🙂
You need to let the mixture infuse for at least 12 weeks, but the longer the better. I recently had my first batch reach 12 weeks maturity and am glad I started it early. The alcohol smell is still stronger than the vanilla smell. I will give it a few more weeks before separating it out into smaller bottles.
If you start your vanilla in a smaller container (say a half-pint jar or individually-sized jars) it will likely infuse faster (in about 2 months).
Step Six: Bottle your Homemade Vanilla
For long term storage after infusing, it’s important to use dark bottles that protect from UV rays and light degradation. I found cute amber bottles on Amazon that I intend to use for gifts; they are 2 oz, which means that the vanilla I have made will go a long way.
Once you have bottled your extract, don’t throw the beans away! Vanilla beans can be re-used for extract until you think they’ve lost their potency. At that point, you can add them to some sugar or salt to create vanilla sugar/salt.
If you’re a little late to the game, there is another option for you! Start off with the alcohol and vanilla beans, but be sure to have the 2 ounce bottles, as well. Put 1 1/2 bean in each 2 ounce bottle and top off with the alcohol. I would put a little gift tag on it explaining when the earliest is to use the vanilla and that the vanilla bean can be reused. These would make great gifts for the holidays!