Homemade Vanilla Extract image

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Get ahead of the gifting game this year by taking the time to prep a batch of DIY vanilla extract over Thanksgiving weekend. A homemade version of this baking staple is an easy, but impressive, go-to holiday gift that your friends and family can enjoy for months to come. 

Hannah Burkhalter
November 21, 2016

You don't need to brave the Black Friday mobs to seek out that perfect "little something" to let loved ones know you care this holiday season. No, this year, you're going to find it right in your own kitchen. 

After the Thanksgiving clean-up chaos has settled (sorta), treat yourself to a relaxing, but productive, day of making DIY vanilla extract--your new go-to homemade holiday gift. This two-ingredient recipe is ridiculously easy; the only catch is that you need to be on your A-game and make it this weekend (Thanksgiving weekend) if you want to give it as a Christmas gift. Why? Well, it takes about one month for the vanilla to infuse into the alcohol. But man, is the effort to plan ahead worth it on this one.

Vanilla extract is the perfect gift for friends and family members. It’s inexpensive to make in a large batch, simple, homemade with love, and best of all--it's actually useful. Package the vanilla in small jars with your own pretty labels and ribbon, and boom--gift-wrapping done. 

How To Make DIY Vanilla

You will need:

  • Clean jars
  • Vodka (yields the purest vanilla flavor)
  • At least 3 vanilla beans per 8 oz. of alcohol (some recipes call for up to 7-8 beans per 8 oz. of alcohol, but you will still need the same amount of time for infusion)

Preparation:

  1. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise so that the insides are exposed. You may cut the beans in half so that they fit into your jars.
  2. Place at least 3 beans into a clean 8 to 10 oz. jar. (see note above)
  3. Fill the jar of beans with vodka until the beans are completely submerged. Voka provides the purest vanilla flavor, but you can also use brandy, rum, or bourbon for something a little richer. Close the jar with an airtight seal.
  4. Let the alcohol and beans infuse for at least one month in a cool, dark place, shaking periodically. Over time, the extract will become more and more flavorful. 

If you choose to leave the beans in the jar rather than removing them and straining the extract, your friends can add more alcohol to the beans when the extract has run out. Eventually, fresh beans need to be added when the flavor has been fully extracted. 

Photo: Hector Sanchez; Styling: Buffey Hargett

Now, if you're not quite on your A-game (it's cool, we all have A- or B+ years) you can still pull this off as a Christmas gift, it will simply require a bit more attenton. Cooking the alcohol in a large saucepan speeds the infusion. This recipe for Bottomless Vanilla Extract suggests heating bourbon or vodka for 5 minutes before adding it to the beans. It’s a slightly trickier process only because the alcohol can easily vaporize. That said, the extract needs to sit at room temp for only 1-2 weeks using this method. 

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