I do a lot of baking here in Umbria for our guests, and the one ingredient I really miss from North America is my vanilla extract. Here in Italy they use either whole vanilla beans which are sold in pairs, tiny bottles of vanilla essence, or they add vanilla flavor with the vanilla flavored baking powder.
I brought one bottle of extract as well as a bottle of vanilla bean paste with me to Italy this year, which didn’t last long with all the baking I do. There is nothing like pure vanilla extract though in my mind, so I have learned to make my own. All you need to make extract at home are vanilla beans and alcohol.
If you want simple extract, use vodka. I discovered a bourbon vanilla extract last year in a specialty shop that I loved using in baking that included spices, fruit, or chocolate, so I made two bottles this year, one with bourbon, and one with vodka.
Commercial extract often contain some sugar in them as well, but you really do not need that if you are using your extract for baking. I bought a good size bag of Madagascar vanilla beans from Amadeus Vanilla Beans to make my extract. This vanilla extract would also be a great gift from the kitchen at Christmas stored in fancy glass bottles with labels.
- 4 Whole Vanilla Beans
- 1 Cup Vodka or Bourbon (See Notes Above)
- 1 Bottle or Jar With Tight Lid
- Cut the vanilla beans in half crosswise, then use a sharp knife to cut a slit down the center of each and open.
- Place the alcohol in your jar, then add the vanilla beans and secure the lid tightly.
- Store in a cool, dark place for 8 weeks, shaking the bottle from time to time.
- After 8 weeks the extract is ready to use, and you can remove the beans and use elsewhere. (I leave the beans in which intensifies the flavor over time)