Saturday, March 20, 2010

It's That Time of Year -- Vanilla Time!

Do you remember the first time you tasted vanilla? Oh, it smelled so good. Wasn't it Granny on The Beverly Hillbillies who wore a dab behind her ears when she was courting?

If cookie dough and cake batter were yummy, then vanilla had to be delicious. Ick. I recall that disappointing moment so well. I think my mother didn't stop me from trying it because she was amused and knew I wouldn't want more. How could something with such a heavenly scent possibly taste so terrible?

These days, you practically have to take a loan to buy vanilla. A teeny bottle costs a bundle. Poor Granny! It's almost too expensive to use to attract gentlemen callers.

Happily, it's easy to make at home.

Vanilla Ingredients

1 bottle vodka (750 ml or thereabouts, note how precise this is)
3 vanilla beans

No kidding. That's it. Now, I've read complicated descriptions of slicing the vanilla beans open lengthwise (no small feat considering how slender and dry they are), scraping out the insides, blah, blah, blah. Okay, well, you just smile politely when someone tells you that. Here's the official recipe.

Open bottle of vodka. Insert vanilla beans. Close bottle of vodka.

There is a small catch, of course. If you were planning to use your new vanilla to bake Easter cookies in 2010, you're out of luck. However, if you make your vanilla now, it should be just about perfect in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas. And it makes very cute and thoughtful gifts for friends who like to bake. Decant into a little bottle, tie a bow around the neck and you're done!

So where do you buy vanilla beans? Your local spice store. Or on-line at


Glenbrook Farms

Spice Barn


So how come no one is asking where to buy vodka?

Oh, one more bit of advice. Hide the vodka/vanilla bottle. I once stashed mine with baking items. A friend assumed it was plain old vodka (okay, so he wasn't paying attention because the liquid inside was already brownish and vodka should be clear . . .) and he made drinks with it. Yeah, not good in mixed drinks.

~ Krista


  1. Krista - OMG. "Poor Granny" is right. These days, vanilla *does* cost as much as perfume. Great advice on making vanilla extract at home. And, luckily, I remember where to buy vodka. :-)


  2. I bought my vanilla beans from one of my local food bloggers, it cost like less than $1 each and pretty good quality.

    Check out :

  3. That's great! I might just do that for Christmas for an aunt of mine who loves to bake! Cool!

  4. I love the scent of vanilla--I just bought a new bottle of vanilla perfume from The Body Shop, and I like having vanilla candles around. Oh, this is _recipe_ blog...I do use vanilla when I bake my two usual recipes--Tollhouse cookies & a cinnamon streusel coffeecake, both from scratch :).

  5. Oh my gosh, Krista - this is so great! I had no idea I could make my own vanilla, and yes, I do remember tasting it because it just *had* to be wonderful. Doesn't every kid do that? Love the memory this brought back. Thanks!

  6. That is hilarious! He must have already had a couple of mixed drinks if he didn't notice the color of the vodka. :)

    Making vanilla is a wonderful idea...thanks!


  7. Back in Kansas (god's country), I make mine with Bourbon. Here in St Thomas, I have a batch cultivating made with Rum.

    I am confused about your Thanksgiving/Christmas statement... THAT LONG??? generally, I use mine after 30 days and have no issues.

    One other tip... Have 2 bottles circulating. When one gets 1/2 way down, I refill with Bourbon (and hopefully rum), and use the other for 30 days. Same beans will last a year doing this.

  8. What a great tip. We use a lot of vanilla and it is way too expensive. I'll have to try this. Thanks.

  9. I had NO idea. This is genius and SO easy.
    I do so much baking, especially around the holidays -- this is fabulous. You're saving
    me a fortune, Krista!

  10. I can't speak about vanilla. But, Krista, you did write something that caught my eye: How something can smell so good and taste so bad. I remember the first (only) time I tried bacon. Junior high cooking class. Being Jewish, I'd never tried bacon, but oh, it smelled good. I tasted it and ... blech! I'm sure everyone has had experiences like that with various types of food. It's odd, really, given how closely aligned taste and smell are that something could please one sense and displease the other. Have you had that experience with anything other than vanilla?

  11. Cleo, remember, the vodka is for the vanilla . . .

    Juju, it's so easy!

    What a great buy, Victor! $1? You can't beat that.

    Jeanne, I bet your aunt would love a gift of vanilla. Plus, she'll think you're a domestic goddess. We won't tell her how easy it is.

    Patti, I love Tollhouse cookies. Do you use the original recipe or do you have tricks?

  12. Julie, I'm so glad someone else tasted vanilla!

    Elizabeth, I teased him mercilessly about that little goof. It was one of those moments in life that everyone laughs about.

    Dave, I suppose almost any alcohol would do, but doesn't your vanilla have a little rum or bourbon taste? I've always used vodka because it doesn't have another taste going on. I'll admit that I have used it before six months have passed, but the longer it steeps, the stronger it is.

    Mason, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

    Jenn, we all need to save money these days. My stomach turns when I see the price on vanilla, and the fake stuff just isn't the same.

    Barb, what a fascinating question. I'm surprised that you didn't like bacon. I thought everyone liked bacon! You're so right about taste and smell. I've been trying to think of the things I don't like. In most cases, I don't care for the smell, either.

  13. I've been making my own vanilla for years, but I use rum instead of vodka. Gives the vanilla a more robust flavor (and I really like rum!). I keep it in an UNLABELED bottle on top of my refrigerator. Don't want anybody drinking those expensive vanilla beans!

  14. I've seen recipes both ways, vodka and bourbon, personal preference I suppose. Just wish I wasn't so impatient to use it for this is very clever.