There are few ingredients that are as delicious smelling and widely used in baking than vanilla. A good vanilla extract will enhance your baking and really make it sing. When it comes to vanilla extract you have the option of using pure vanilla or imitation vanilla. Pure vanilla is made by extracting flavor from real vanilla beans using 35%+ alcohol. Pure vanilla should be dark and rich just like the beans it was extracted from. Imitation and “clear” vanilla extracts are made from artificial ingredients.
If you’re making a recipe where it’s very vanilla forward meaning, the vanilla flavor is meant to stand out, then it’s highly recommended that you use pure vanilla. Examples of vanilla forward desserts are pastry creams, custards, sugar cookies, and vanilla cakes. If you’re baking something where the vanilla won’t stand out and isn’t meant to be the “star” then go ahead and use imitation vanilla if you wish. You can save your pure vanilla extracts, vanilla pastes, and vanilla beans for when it will really count. I prefer to use strictly pure vanilla in all of my baking however, that is simply personal preference.
When making your own vanilla extract you can use either premium or Grade B vanilla beans. The premium beans will be the most plump and flavor rich and because of that they will cost you significantly more money. Grade B beans are less expensive so they tend to be smaller, drier, and contain imperfections however, they will still work in a homemade extract. I like to use Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans but feel free to use Indonesian, Tahitian, or Mexican Vanilla Beans as well. Depending upon which bean you choose the extract will have a slightly different flavor.
Vanilla extract will take about 8 weeks before it’s ready to use however, the longer you leave it the stronger and more pronounced the vanilla flavor will be. Make sure to store it in a cool, dry, dark place and give it a shake a few times a week. Once it’s ready you can use it in your baking just like any store-bought version.
- 8 oz glass bottle or jar
- 7 vanilla beans, split
- 1 cup of 70 Proof/35% alcohol Vodka (you can also use Bourbon, Rum, or Brandy)
Run a knife down the length of each bean slicing it open. Place the vanilla beans into the jar. Pour the alcohol over the beans making sure they are fully submerged. Place in a cool, dry, dark space (such as the back of a cabinet) and give it a shake every few days. Wait at least 8 weeks and then the extract will be ready to use. Enjoy!
**Tip** – A great place to buy vanilla beans and vanilla products is Beanilla.com . They usually have the best prices, offer free shipping, and the quality of their products is top-notch.