Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Vanilla extract

For a couple years of my life after college I became a pastry chef. I worked at a little bakery in downtown Champaign making cakes, cookies, and other traditional European desserts. One of my favorite jobs for sure. I love baking - I love that you can create something that not only tastes good, but is beautiful. Most importantly though, it makes people happy. I absolutely love making people happy.

There are so many wonderful things about baking. It is a science for sure - and to get something right is an amazing confidence boost. I can set aside the world and just make something. I imagine it is what an artist feels when they paint, or what a swimmer feels when they are doing laps. I relax - no matter what is going on around me. When I was little my Mom let me lick the bowl and I do the same for my kids. It is a tradition that I hope many households still hold on to.

Then there is the smell. Entering a house that has anything baking - from bread to brownies to custard - there is nothing like it. It smells like home, warmth, and comfort. It smells like Mom and Nana. It lifts the spirits. There are many things that go into that smell - the butter, the chocolate, sometimes the yeast - but nothing competes with vanilla. When I was a little girl I used to stick the vanilla extract bottle right up to my nose when my Mom would use it. Smelling it now always brings such fond memories of baking with her and being a carefree child. Olfactory glands have amazing memories - probably why I find vanilla so comforting.

Did you ever ask to try the vanilla? Surely something that smells so good must taste unbelievable. False. It's awful! It tastes almost as bad as straight vodka. Oh wait....that is exactly what it is. Alcohol. I have no issue with store-bought vanilla extract, except that the good stuff is expensive!! They want me to throw down 5 bucks for a tiny bottle of the stuff that only gets me two batches of cookies? Until now, that is exactly what I have done, because I didn't know better.

Now I know how easy it is to make my own - in large quantities! All you need is vanilla beans and vodka. I'll be honest - I bought the cheap stuff. Maybe it would be worth getting good quality vodka - but I'm trying to save money here. You just split the vanilla beans, which I ordered off Amazon (like I do everything in my life) and place it in the vodka in an appropriate container. This is what I used because it fit the vanilla beans in perfectly.

How my vanilla beans came

Split them with a sharp knife down the center

Fill with vodka!

Starting to infuse...
Ready to use!
I let my vanilla sit for over a month before using it. I just leave the vanilla beans in there - it can only get better with time. Then when I start to get low I can  just add more vodka, and more vanilla beans. I used 7-8 beans for this batch. I've been using it recently and it is everything I would want out of vanilla extract. Soon to come I'll make some vanilla pudding with it and really put it to the test!

While I was playing with vodka - I added some lemon peel to some. Bam - lemon extract. What else can I add to vodka and make magic happen?


  1. So are you liking the results? I tried this about a year ago. Aside from the drama of getting the vodka bottle open (funny pics and story here: ), I didn't really like how it turned out. Cheaper than the good stuff, but way more expensive than the cheap stuff, and I guess we are okay with the cheap stuff. Plus, it tasted too alcohol-y for my liking. Anyway, curious to see what you thought =)

    1. Haha wow! That vodka bottle was not having it! I do like it. It isn't as good as the expensive stuff. For that, I would probably need more expensive vodka or something. Or for it to age for years. I feel like when I add the cheap stuff I am just adding water. So I feel good about using this. I don't notice an alcohol flavor, but I may not be too sensitive to it :).