I ran out of vanilla extract last week. I was sitting on the sofa, flipping through a magazine when the craving hit: I needed chocolate chip cookies, and I needed them ASAP. Fortunately, I keep a well-stocked baking pantry. And, since my kitchen is incredibly tiny with minimal storage, you know I value baking when I devote not one, but two, whole shelves of my three-shelf pantry to flour, sugars, and the like.
I hopped up off the sofa and headed to my kitchen to pull out the necessary ingredients: flour, brown sugar, shortening, salt, baking soda, chocolate chips, and …oh no. As I pulled the vanilla bottle down, I realized it was woefully light. Once I had it at eye-level, my fears were confirmed. I was out. Being the scientific problem solver that I am, I quickly decided two things: first, I was simply going to have to cut my chocolate chip cookie recipe in half and continue on with the baking. Second, I needed to learn to make my own extracts so this did not happen again.
Twenty-five minutes later, armed with a vanilla latte and a plate of freshly baked cookies, I settled down to start doing some background research. I already knew I needed whole vanilla beans and some sort of solvent (thank you years of biochemistry), but I wasn’t quite sure as to the details of the process. I perused a few sites (my favorites are here and here), and then I felt equipped to head out shopping for my supplies.
While you can use any clear alcohol as your solvent base for extraction, I chose vodka because it has the least flavor (but I bet rum would make for a tasty twist!). I picked up my bottles and vanilla beans at Cost Plus World Market and the vodka and raw almonds from Trader Joes (I decided, since I was making extracts, might as well make almond, too!) Once you’ve gone shopping, the prep work is very simple.
First, cut your vanilla beans right down the middle to expose the seeds/insides. Then chop them in half (you could cut them smaller for a faster extraction, but I liked the way they look a bit bigger). Place the vanilla beans in one of the glass bottles, and fill with vodka. Now just let it sit in a cool, dark place for 1-2 months, inverting the bottle a few times each day to get things thoroughly mixed, and Voila! Vanilla extract.
The almonds are just as easy. Make sure you’ve picked up raw almonds with the skin off. I chose the slivers because they have more surface area exposed to the solvent (is my inner scientist showing?) but you can use whole if you want! I used approximately 6 whole almonds worth of slivers to each cup of solvent. Then, follow procedure just like the vanilla. Let sit, invert daily, and you’re done.
As your supply starts to run low, I would strain out the old beans/nuts, add new, and top with more liquor to keep your supply at levels high enough to sustain those “I need cookies now” moments.