Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Homemade Christmas 2011, part 1: Vanilla Extract

This post is part one of four in my Homemade Christmas 2011 series. I hope to add to this series next year with new craft projects.

Part 2: Lavender Aromatherapy Eye Pillows
Part 3: It's a Cookie Decorating Party!
Part 4: Aromatherapy Body Butters & Scrubs


I love baking! (You're visiting my baking blog, so that's no big surprise, right?) However, I also love dabbling in lots of other creative activities. I took ceramics classes for many years, made my own dipped candles, taught myself how to knit and am always kicking around a few ideas for writing a novel. This Christmas I decided I wanted to make (most of) the presents my husband and I would give at the holidays.

As I've gotten older, I feel like I need less and less "stuff" around the house and so - while I still love to spoil my nieces and nephew - I thought it would be fun to give homemade gifts this year. Now I just needed a plan...What could I make and who would like what?!

First up? Homemade vanilla extract. I knew the extract would need a while to "set up" so I actually started this project last summer. I had made homemade vanilla extract once before, about 20 years ago, when visiting one of my aunts so I knew the basic gist of it (add vanilla beans to vodka and let sit) but wanted more details. I like to gather lots of information whenever I'm trying something off to google I went! There are lots of other people blogging about making vanilla extract but The Italian Dish was the best make-your-own-extract blog post I found. The photos on that site are wonderful and the blog is really well laid out. Her recommendations for buying the vanilla beans and the bottles were also excellent. Both were of great quality but also very inexpensive!

For vanilla beans, visit Beanilla. I bought the Bourbon vanilla beans, but they sell eight(!) different varieties. I got the 1/2 pound pack which was less than $30. This is an amazing value! For comparison, Beanilla sells a single vanilla bean for $ a grocery store you'd usually pay about $9.00 for 2 beans and the difference in quality is like night and day. My Beanilla beans were soft, pliable and smelled absolutely incredible. Grocery store vanilla beans are often hard and dry and stuck on that bent in half position when you take them out of the bottle. I highly recommend Beanilla for all your vanilla bean needs.

my fresh, delicious vanilla beans. One went straight into my bag of sugar!

The other great recommendation from the Italian Dish was for Specialty Bottle (which you'll see also came in very handy for part four of this Homemade Christmas series). I love wrapping presents and presenting things in pretty and fun packaging, so this site was another fantastic find. For my vanilla extract I used both tall, square bottles (8.5 oz) and short, round bottles (4 oz). The bottles were so cheap too - $1.38 each for the tall ones and .67 cents for the short ones...such a bargain (cap was included)!

my adorable glass bottles, all ready to be filled

All I needed now was the vodka and I was ready to get started. This was such an easy project and when finished, the bottles looked really impressive (quite professional too). Next year I'd like to try some flavored oils: herbs, hot peppers, garlic...yum!

I'm definitely going to need a funnel for this part!

I counted out my vanilla beans then ran the tip of a paring knife down the length of each bean to split them. For each of the tall bottles I used 3 beans; for the small bottles I used 2 beans, cut in half (split them first before cutting).

that was easy!

so cute all lined up together

the short ones...

...and the tall

I put them back in the delivery box (which had cardboard divider sleeves) for storage and then put them away in my pantry. Every couple of weeks I'd pull them out and gently turn the boxes upside-down a couple of times to mix the extract. Six months later...voila, real, homemade vanilla extract. Exciting!

They turned out a gorgeous, rich amber color with a few little vanilla seeds resting on the bottom of the bottles. Gorgeous! And, the smell of the extract was just incredible. Words don't really suffice to convey the fragrant, sweet, floral scent. Heavenly, really.

To finish, I simply typed up some labels (rotating the font sideways), added a border and printed. I thought a rectangle shape would be more elegant than the label's normal rounded corners so I finished by trimming the label around the border's edge. For the wrapping "paper" I wanted something that went with the "to be used in the kitchen" theme so I used several layers of cheese cloth and secured it with a ribbon.

very impressive!

The front of each label says:



The back of each label says:

This vanilla extract has been steeping for 6 months. It contains vodka and bourbon vanilla beans. Bourbon beans have a creamy, sweet, smooth and mellow flavor.

When your bottle runs low, simply add more unflavored vodka and you will never run out of delicious vanilla extract.

Merry Christmas

Bye for now...


  1. Happened upon your site via celebitchy (damn that addictive site). loved this idea, and can't wait to try it out!

  2. Thanks, Franziska! I definitely recommend trying this project - it was so easy and people loved receiving the vanilla!

    1. After looking (lusting) over your step by step, I was inspired to document our step by step garlic infused olive oil! Thank you for that boost of inspiration :)

      I had also pinned one of the above pictures on pinterest and had quite a few people repin so hopefully your site got a bit of traffic that day!

    2. Your garlic-infused olive oils looks absolutely fabulous!! I will definitely be making your recipe sometime.

  3. This looks wonderful. I am going to try this for Christmas gifts, but I have one question. When you split and cut a bean, you come up with four pieces. You mentioned that you used two beans for the smaller 4 oz. bottles. Does this mean that you put 8 pieces in a jar? Thank you.

  4. Hi there,

    You'll LOVE the vanilla. For the smaller bottles, I used two vanilla beans. When I say "split" I didn't cut them all the way through, but rather just ran my knife gently down one side, but not cutting all the way through (so it could then open like a book). This way the vanilla beans in the inside can come out. The you can cut each of the two vanilla beans in half so they fit into the bottle. I think I used my kitchen scissors to snip them cleanly in half.

    Hope this helps, let me know if you have any other questions and good luck :)