Christmas is still a bit while* away, but I have already started planning. I will do anything to avoid that last-minute manic rush to the shops in the coming months.
The holidays make some people a little crazy. If you made it onto Santa’s Nice list, you might just witness a delightful show starring a tangle-haired, growling bear of a woman clawing at another over the last pair of rhinestone-studded hot pink fuzzy boots.
While everyone enjoys a good cat fight, I find it destroys my faith in humanity, especially this time of year. I would much rather spend lazy evenings sipping cocoa by the fire. That means getting my shopping done early and spending some time making a few of the gifts myself.
If you are looking for a charming, but easy handmade gift, now is the time to get started. Far more valuable than anything with a blingy price tag, that cute little bottle of homemade vanilla extract is great for anyone on your list. There are some people on this planet who actually do not like chocolate (I know, wow.), but do you know anyone who does not like vanilla?
I love seeing those tiny black vanilla specks in home-baked sweets. That is how I got into using whole beans, which I was surprised to find affordable. The extract is easier to use and a luxury item that is a snap to make at home. There really is not much to making homemade vanilla. Just the beans and the booze.
Decorating the bottles adds a personal touch to these sweet little extracts. I adore plaid and was lucky to have some wintery cream and blue fabric on hand. My handwriting is hardly legible and I had to throw some tags out because I myself could not read what I had written, but they were fun to make with some of Daisy’s art supplies.
Whole vanilla beans are a luxurious baking ingredient worth the splurge. But, there is no need to break the bank. Spend a bit of time, do some research, because there are some really good deals out there on ebay and amazon. I have been buying bunches of 25 beans at a time. This morning, I was getting ready to dress a cake with fresh homemade whipped cream and when I cut into a bean, it was so dry and leathery that there wasn’t much pulp to scrape out. So I myself am on the market for a new supplier and have it on good authority that Whole Foods actually has quality vanilla beans at a decent price. Guess where I’m going right after work today?
Commercial extracts use 35% alcohol (70 proof). Rum, brandy, bourbon and vodka are most commonly used. Vodka is my preference because its flavour is neutral and will allow the vanilla to steal the spotlight.
There is no need for stretching your funds for top-shelf alcohol. However, bathing beautiful vanilla beans in cheap alcohol will surely not place you in favour with the food gods. So, go middle-ground as is always wise.
1 bean or 2? 2 ounces of alcohol or 4? There is really no exact formula here. I chose 2-ounce bottles, because smaller is cuter. I put only one vanilla bean into the bottle, but two would infuse the alcohol more quickly. There are no rules and that is what makes this a fun project to do with the kids. Just make sure no one sneaks a swig while you are not looking.
Recently, I sketched a new logo for my blog. The twins holding a bowl together were inspired by my little blue-eyed beauty and have already found their way onto a tux apron. I ordered custom waterproof labels online and they turned out great in white against the chocolate-brown glass. A simple handwritten paper tag, though, is what really gives these little cuties the personal touch and makes them extra-special. This took a bit of effort on my part – If left under the sun, my handwriting will grow legs and walk off (an old Armenian saying). Just make sure yours is legible.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Note: Below are instructions for how I made the extract and decorated the bottles. Let your imagination loose and do your own thing.
What to Get
750ml bottle vodka
12 vanilla beans
12 amber boston 2oz bottles
a small funnel
sharp paring knife
decorative hole puncher
12 small rubber bands
12 2×2 swatches of cute fabric
pretty thin ribbon, yarn or sparkly pipe cleaners
custom clear waterproof labels (2″ x 1.5″)
What to Do
Place a vanilla bean onto a clean cutting board and split lengthwise down the middle with a sharp paring knife.
Fold the bean in half and stuff it through the neck of the bottle, using a chopstick to coax the bean to go into the bottle.
Place the funnel over the bottle and carefully fill the bottle with enough alcohol to completely immerse the bean.
Seal the bottles with the provided caps.
Cut 2″x2″ square of fabric using crimping shears.
Place fabric square over each bottle and secure into place with
a small rubber band.
Cut small 1″x2″ tags out of paper with crimping shears.
Punch a pattern (like a heart or snowflake) out with a decorative hole puncher.
Using the Sharpie, label the tag.
Pass the ribbon/pipe cleaner through the hole in the tag
and wrap over the rubber band around the neck of the bottle.
Place them back into their shipping box.
Store them in a cool, dry place like a pantry for at least a month.
Take them out every week or so and give them a little shake to help the vanilla pulp
to loosen and infuse into the alcohol.
Little bottles of homemade vanilla extract promise to make a great impression. Toss the lonely old bow aside and decorate a present with one of these little cuties or hide them in someone’s stocking. Even those who do not bake can still enjoy a few drops in their morning coffee or oatmeal. It may even inspire a creative new cocktail. Keep this up and, some day, you just might even make it into somebody’s will.
*Bit while: A phrase borrowed from Daisy, one of the many cute things she has coined and will unfortunately soon forget.