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Vanilla Extract – the perfect holiday gift

December 4, 2010 | Condiments, Technique

I try to be original on this blog – I almost always create my own recipes and I rarely follow a fellow blogger’s recipe and repost it. But sometimes someone else does it perfectly, I can’t improve upon the result, and I feel compelled to copy and share. In this case, it was Elaine, from the wonderful The Italian Dish blog, and her cute homemade vanilla extract gifts.You need to start with really high quality vanilla beans. I got bourbon vanilla beans from Beanilla…and they were the most moist and plump vanilla beans I’ve ever seen. You need that to impart the flavor into the extract. Those dried up ones in the grocery just won’t do! I purchased the half pound size which gave me enough beans for 36 small bottles of extract.You’ll need to purchase small bottles – Elaine recommended Specialty Bottle company, taking all of the guesswork and legwork out of it for me!You’ll also need vodka – I found it took about 2-1/2 bottles (1.75 liter size) to fill my 36 small jars. I’m guessing you could also use grain alcohol to make the extract. I prefer grain alcohol over vodka when making limoncello as it seems to extract the lemon essence from the peels more fully, so I am thinking it also might extract more vanilla from the beans. But since Elaine used vodka, I did too.The only somewhat tedious part of the project is preparing the beans. I cut each bean lengthwise to expose the vanilla bean seeds that are packed with flavor, then cut those in half crosswise yielding 4 pieces from each bean.I placed 6 of these small pieces in each jar (so one and a half beans per jar).Finally, using a small funnel you simply fill each one with vodka and cap them. Within minutes the vodka starts pulling some flavor and color from the beans.After just a day, the extract will take on a light brown color and already begin to smell heavenly, but it’s not ready yet. Let it sit somewhere for 6-8 weeks (I put them all back in the bottle box and tucked it away on a basement shelf to be out of the way).You can create your own labels on your favorite software, or order labels from online companies. I was simply out of creativity and copied the design almost exactly from Elaine’s samples. She tells her readers that you can keep the extract going for a long time by simply adding more vodka as you use it. When it no longer seems to be as flavorful, she recommends adding a fresh vanilla bean. I’ll be using my extract as holiday gifts and will even hang some name tags on some to use for place cards for my New Year’s Eve dinner for friends this year. Thanks Elaine for a really fabulous food gift idea!

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