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Special Gift You Can Make: Vanilla Extract

Like the idea of homemade gifts, but not a craftsy type? Concocting your own vanilla extract is easy, even for kitchen klutzes.

Special Gift You Can Make: Vanilla Extract Special Gift You Can Make: Vanilla Extract Special Gift You Can Make: Vanilla Extract Special Gift You Can Make: Vanilla Extract Special Gift You Can Make: Vanilla Extract

 

On the off-chance you haven't completed your holiday shopping after all of the Brown Thursday, Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday and Cyber Monday sales, perhaps you'd like to make gifts this year.

One simple kitchen project that can be a thoughtful gift for the bakers and cooks in your life is  homemade vanilla extract.

Here's why.

First, giving little bottles or Mason jars with ribbon on them is kind of cute. Second, pure vanilla extract (not the chemical-laden imitation stuff) is expensive. Third, it's actually super easy for even the non-chefs among us to put together.

Here's how you do it.

Purchase vanilla beans whole in the bulk food aisle of a grocery store, like Whole Foods, or order them online.  Vanilla Saffron Imports, a San Francisco-based company, has several varieties of beans available on its website. Although the beans can be pricey, there are good deals to be found and tricks, such as ordering "chef quality beans." These beans aren't as pretty and plump, but do the job when drowned in liquor.

You also need the booze. Probably a lot of booze.

There are a few schools of thinking when it comes to which alcohol to steep the beans in. Vodka gives the purest extract. Bourbon can be very flavorful (so much so you may just want to pour the vanilla extract over some ice cubes and sip it). Rum also works for vanilla extracting.

A half-gallon jug of liquor will make about nine 8-ounce Mason jars of vanilla extract. If you don't need that much or are going for a cute factor,  try this method: buy mini bottles of liquor, sip a little off the top and drop the beans in.

Some say  brown bottles are better for the beans to age in because it keeps light out. Others prefer the sunlight.

Regardless of what vessel you use, here are  the basic steps to follow:

  • Split the vanilla bean lengthwise but leave the top connected. Scissors work well for this.
  • Put the beans in the bottle or jar. You may need to bend them. The general consensus seems to be about four or five beans per 8-ounce jar or bottle. 
  • Cover the beans with your alcohol of choice.
  • Seal, shake and store the bottles or jars.

The extract is  ready to use in eight weeks. That's after Christmas and Hanukkah, of course, so attach a label or tag to the jar or bottle the the recipient when the extract will be ready to use. Also, remember to note that the beans can be reused. Just top off with more liquor and let them steep again.

Some people  strain the extract using a coffee filter before use but if you don't mind teensy tiny particles of bean, you should be fine just scooping spoonfuls out of the jar when baking. (You could include this information in your note, too.)

The beans will lose some essence after about a year, but there are ways to re-purpose the pods, such as  making vanilla sugar or salt.

And if you have leftover liquor after topping off all your gift bottles, well — toast the holidays!

What's the best homemade gift you ever received? Tell us in the comments section below.

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