This week The Effortless Girl Column on Charlotte Parent featured an easy Christmas gift. You’re probably thinking why now? Yep, it’s early, but why stress later when you can get a jump now? I’m one of those … those women (or men) that get extremely excited about Christmas. I love the meaning of the day, the goodwill, the celebratory vibe, the food, and the decorations. I’m a holiday fanatic. I pack the weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas with concerts, pageants, hot chocolate, Hallmark Channel movies, and driving around to look at the sights. I love browsing the mall to smell the peppermint and visit Santa, but shopping for gifts during the holiday season makes me stressed out. It is so much easier to get a jump on the presents now, when things are quiet and you have a minute to think. This month is the time to start the planning and I have a super easy gift that will make you the Belle of every Christmas Ball!
I like to make vanilla extract myself. Because I bake often, I use lots of it. The store bought vanilla is expensive. Plus, the commercial vanilla, the “pure” vanilla extract has sugar and water added (things that make you go hmm). If you make your own vanilla, the taste difference is obvious and your cost savings are substantial. One 2-ounce bottle in the store costs about $4.75 for “pure” vanilla extract. You can make 64 ounces for about $40 or less at home. The price savings is huge and so is the taste and quality.
FYI — the strength of real vanilla extract is measured in “bolds.” This means single bold is store bought quality, double bold is twice as strong and so on. The longer vanilla ages, the stronger it gets. The vanilla recipe I will share with you is double bold. I let mine age for months and then years so my old stuff is strong, super BOLD! This recipes needs to age at least 30 days before using.
Begin by purchasing a combination of vodka and bourbon. I like to use more vodka and a splash of bourbon for taste. If you like bourbon, add more. Purchase 64 ounces of alcohol. I don’t drink so I purchase whatever is on sale at the liquor store. The quality of the liquor doesn’t matter a whole bunch because the beans will flavor the liquid. I purchased about $16 worth of vodka + bourbon. I order the beans online. There are literally hundreds of places to purchase bulk beans. Google “bulk Madagascar vanilla beans” and go shopping. Buy 1/2 pound of beans for $20-$25. If you pay more, you are just unnecessarily paying more.
The beans should arrive sealed in plastic to preserve the moisture and quality of the bean. The photo above makes the beans look dried out. If they are not pliable and instead are dry and brittle, send them back. Brittle beans are old and don’t pay for them. Cut the beans into small chunks. You may split them in the middle, or not, it doesn’t matter. Use the 1/2 pound of beans for 64 ounces. The aging process will break down the beans and extract the yummy goodness from them regardless of how you chop them.
Chop the Vanilla Beans
Pour the alcohol into a large glass jar with a lid that will properly seal. Use glass so that the plastic won’t leach into the extract. I’ve been using the same jar of extract for several years that I made several years ago and I don’t think that plastic would work over an extended period of time. Put the chopped beans into the jar as well.
Combine the Ingredients
Tightly seal the jar. Give it a shake and place it in the back corner of your pantry. It doesn’t need to be exposed to lots of light for the next few months. The jar needs to sit for at least 30 days before the vanilla is ready to use. After that, it can age for a long, long time. Below is the new jar on the left and an old jar that I made two years ago on the right. Note the color difference.
New vs. Aged Vanilla
I like to leave the chunks of beans in my vanilla. If you are making ice cream or a recipe that calls for vanilla beans, you can scoop a spoonful of the beans from the bottom of the jar and use them also. I think it makes my baking taste and feel more organic with whole chunks of beans that puree in the blender. The flavor is really rich. You can always strain the old beans out if you want, it is totally up to you.
Finally, pour the vanilla into containers to make perfect Christmas gifts for friends, teachers, book club friends in December! I purchase 1-ounce jars online for 40 cents each and they come with a special lid that seals the liquid in the jar. It is also really creative to purchase decorative jars in different shapes or sizes to give away. Make sure you purchase a jar that will seal. The total cost of my vanilla including 64 small jars is about $65 for 64 jars.
This makes a very thoughtful (and useful) gift that is super unique and totally affordable for $1 per jar –in total 64 gifts! Tie a small piece of ribbon around each jar and PRESTO an easy (on the budget AND to make) present! Spend this holiday season enjoying the time with your friends and family with your list already checked off. This gift idea is simple, fast, and far less stressful than looking for a parking space at the mall so Merry (early) Christmas! Be sure to check out Charlotte Parent for more holiday happenings and all things kids!
Julie, The Effortless Girl, is from a small (teeny tiny) community in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. The Effortless Girl was born out of a desire to challenge herself to find accessible, unique lifestyle ideas with cost savings in mind. LEARN MORE >