I love all things Vanilla and use several bottles of vanilla extract over the course of a year because of all my baking!
This past August I was down in Costa Rica at our place for a week trip without the kids or the husband! (SO MUCH FUN!) While I was walking in town, I popped into a local store and discovered organic vanilla beans for sale. I asked more about them and discovered that the farm, Villa Vanilla Farm, was just an hour away.
After mentioning it to my friend Kimberly who lives in Jaco full-time, she quickly said “Let’s GO!” I met Kimberly about 4 years ago and I feel so lucky to have her as a friend. She is always up for an adventure, an amazing listener, an exceptional pizza maker (maybe she can guest blog for me!) and extremely generous. Our “about” an hour journey turned out to be “about” 2 hours! It is just 30 miles east of Quepos but the roads that led us there were not exactly paved.
Walking through the farm was really educational as we were able to see where the orchids grew. (Albeit “someone” was a bit worried about the potential of walking amongst snakes, too!) We saw how they harvest a variety of plants and how they process the vanilla beans. I walked away with white peppercorn, oregano, cocoa nibs, cinnamon and several dozen vanilla beans.
I have always heard it is easy to make vanilla extract, little did I know that it would literally only take two ingredients. VODKA AND VANILLA! Now I must confess that there is a bit of trial and error. I should have made a small batch first to see how it all would work. (Ratio of beans to vodka.)
1. Pick your favorite brand of Vodka. (It doesn’t have to be expensive, but should not be flavored.) I choose Tito’s for this batch because it gets high ratings.
2. Find a glass jar with a lid … I used some glass jelly jars and mason jars.
3. Slice your vanilla beans in half and place about 3 (jelly)/ 6-8 (mason) in the jar, depending on the size of your jar. (I should have used more with my first batch and have learned that different varieties of vanilla beans are going to infuse differently.)
4. Add vodka almost up to the top, you want enough room at the top so when you shake the bottle it will mix. (I had to learn this lesson too!!)
5. Place jar in a cool dark place and shake vigorously every week until it becomes the rich brown color that you want. Mine has taken about 16 weeks and could still use some extra time. Once your are comfortable with the color (it will continue to darken over time) you can pour the vanilla into nicer bottles if you want to give them as gifts.
6. I purchased several 6 oz dark glass bottles and filled them. (Next time I would buy larger bottles.) I am still looking for some cool labels to put on them. My dear friends in CR got torn christmas labels instead!
The best part of this vanilla extract is that over time you can just keep adding vodka or more beans to it. (Some recipes only require the seeds, so don’t throw the bean out. Stick it in some sugar to make vanilla sugar or in your bottle of extract.)
Shake on and then Bake on!