Every year about this time I start scrambling for gift ideas for my long list of friends, neighbors and colleagues. I have criteria. The gift has to be homemade and easily mass produced. It needs to be consumable, attractive and appeal to a wide range of tastes. And above all, it needs to be affordable.
What you, my dear readers were not aware of is that life being what it is, I didn’t get around to actually delivering my awesome little homemade gifts in time for Christmas. Thankfully, I have very understanding friends. No one seemed to mind.
My plan was to send out Ground Hog Day gifts instead. But then, well, it was nearly Valentine’s Day, so I shifted. I got cute red ribbon, figuring I could use the green raffia another time.
But then I got to thinking about how lovely it would be to get Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract as a surprise Easter gift!
Do you have any idea how fast 2014 zoomed by? Just when I was thinking seriously about how to make these the cutest Thanksgiving gifts ever, I heard the bells of Christmas.
For the first time in my adult life, I have 24 beautiful homemade Christmas gifts all prepared and ready to go ahead of time. Before Thanksgiving! And aged. Oh, my.
I decided to open one of these babies just to make sure it is still fit for human consumption after all this time and let me tell you, Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract does not go bad. And now that I am doing quite a bit of testing (oh, yeah) I am learning that for once, age is on my side. This stuff is fantastic! Can you hear me? We’re talking some wonderful kind of baking and other sundry uses for Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract.
I have always preferred to do homemade gifts to deliver my love and best wishes for the Holiday Season (you know, Christmas, Chanukah, New Years, Kwanzaa, Festivus). And if I can weave into these messengers a small Wow! factor, well that’s a bonus.
I came up with this idea while cruising some of my favorite blogs. One idea sparked my memory and sent me scrambling for a book I wrote a long time ago, Cheapskate in the Kitchen. Sure enough, right there in the chapter “Cheapstitutes” is how to make homemade pure vanilla extract. Perfect!
Here’s the routine: Vodka + Vanilla Beans X 2 Months = Pure Vanilla Extract
Ingredients: Vodka and vanilla beans.
Yes, vodka …
… and vanilla beans.
You can use any cheap vodka. I just happened to have had this lovely blue bottle of Skyy. Really, the cheapest thing you can find will work just great. It’s the quality of the vanilla beans that determines the quality of the extract.
Vanilla Beans can be VERY pricey at the grocery store (however, when used in extract, you can keep using them almost indefinitely). If you plan to make more than one bottle of extract I suggest purchasing beans in bulk.
I used these Madagascar vanilla beans …
… and bottled my homemade vanilla extract in these very nice 4-oz amber glass bottles that came with black lids.
Here’s the simple process I used to make a big batch of pure vanilla extract:
Get some canning jars (or other large glass vessels with lids) and wash them well.
Using a sharp knife, snip the ends off the beans (don’t throw the ends away) and slice each vanilla bean in half horizontally. Then starting about 1/4″ from one end, slice each vanilla bean lengthwise. The point here is to expose the millions of tiny vanilla bean seeds that are packed inside the beans. Don’t remove the seeds and try to not let them escape.
Put the vanilla bean pieces (including the snipped ends) into the canning jars. I needed a lot of vanilla extract, so I used two 2-quart jars with about 30 beans in each jar. Using a funnel, I poured vodka into each bottle completely covering the beans in the liquid, placed the lids on tightly and shook them very well. I shoved the jars into a cool, dark cupboard. Once a week I gave each jar a good shake to get those tiny seeds well distributed.
Everything I read said that the Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract would be ready to use as soon as 6 weeks. However, now I am wondering if it’s not better to let it age. I mean, I’ve had a full year now to consider this and the darker it gets, the more intense the vanilla flavor and fragrance. However, I would not hesitate at all to give gifts of 6- or 8-week old Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract. And I’d have fun with that tag message, too, suggesting that my recipient lovely shake the bottle every week or so to enjoy the beautiful aging process.
This is how it looks on Day One …
Day Three …
And Day Four …
After about 6 weeks, using a small funnel, I filled the gift bottles with extract. I add a nice piece of vanilla bean to each gift bottle so each would continue to intensify. The vanilla beans will remain amazingly potent almost indefinitely.
To finish off my some of these gifts, I used these very cool customizable labels from Avery. It was so easy to go online and use the companion templates and designs that come with the label instructions.
The results are quite amazing if I do say so myself. Another idea I tried was kraft labels you see on the first photo above. There are so many options for labeling.
Before you ask, I’ll tell you that the small bottle of extract is a stand-in demo and yes it is bit larger than the 4-oz amber gift bottles.
The embellishment I’m using is this olive green raffia ribbon which I love.
I am so excited that I’ve figured out my homemade Holiday Gift for 2014! These sweet bottles of awesomeness will be easy to ship. And I have no doubt that my friends, neighbors and colleagues will be happy to finally hear from me because who doesn’t love high-quality, really good, Pure Madagascar Vanilla Extract?
My best estimate is that these 24 bottles cost $4.50 per gift, complete. I believe I will enclose a fabulous cookie recipe with each of my gifts—one that calls for lots of really good pure vanilla extract.
By the way, I didn’t completely empty either of my big jars so that the beans that remained would be submerged. Now I have refilled them with vodka.
It appears that while I have fewer beans now (some went into the small gift bottles) I will have a never-ending supply of vanilla extract for baking, flavoring coffee and gifts throughout the year and beyond.
Vanilla beans just keep on giving. And giving.