If you bake, you’ve probably shelled out a pretty penny for vanilla extract. Nothing beats that extra sweetness and flavor in a cake, frosting or cookie! At $8.99 a pop for the cheap-o corn syrup stuff or $20+ for the really good stuff, its pricey. You can be like my friend Joey and buy a gallon at Sam’s and yes, that should last you a while.  But what if you could easily make your own at home?

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Now when I say easily, please know it doesn’t take much effort, but I didn’t say fast. If you start now, you could have some ready for Christmas cookies! I’ve had the one above going for about 2 months and it’s not dark enough yet. Luckily I’m patient and have plenty of store bought vanilla bean paste to last a while. I find that we are pretty disconnected from our food and where it comes from. Have you ever spent much time thinking about how vanilla extract is made, what makes it wonderful and where it comes from?  If you just want to hurry up and get your extract started (the sooner the better…) then skip down to the recipe. Otherwise, stick around and I’ll share what I know about this amazing “bean”!

What is Vanilla?

Vanilla beans actually come from an orchid. Crazy right?  I just saw the Vanilla Orchid in person at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (the orchid greenhouse is the best part!)  To get high yields, orchid farmers hand pollinate the flowers. Once formed, the beans are cured and fermented for up to a year to allow the aromatic flavors to develop. (Now you know why it costs so much!) Commercial vanilla extract uses grain alcohol to dissolve the flavor compounds of the vanilla.  The FDA requires a very set ratio of vanilla bean to water to alcohol in order to label it vanilla “extract”.  From what I’ve read, it takes up to two full years for vanilla extract to reach its full flavor. We won’t be quite so precise (or patient) with ours.

I put my jar in the pantry where its very dark with the door closed.  I see it there and I remember to shake it up.  One of the things I read that I’m excited to try is that as you use the extract, top it off with vodka. Supposedly the extract will stay flavorful for 7 years. I also can’t wait to try the same approach with lemon peels, lavender and other flavors that might make a nice extract for baking!