A few years ago, after watching the Barefoot Contessa pull a jar of 25-year-old homemade vanilla extract out of her incredible pantry, I was inspired to make my own. According to Ina, as her supply runs low, she just keeps topping off the jar with more vodka and the vanilla beans keep replenishing her supply. Vanilla extract is an essential ingredient in my kitchen, and one I tend to use even more quickly in the winter months when I am baking more often.
If you’ve heard the term ‘Bourbon vanilla’ before, it actually refers to any extract made with vanilla beans that have come from an island off of Madagascar, formerly known as Île Bourbon. While vanilla extract is typically made with vodka, it can be made with any 40% or 80-proof alcohol. Using bourbon as the carrier liquid will impart extra depth of flavor to any recipe. Now that I’ve been enjoying my bottomless vodka-based jar of vanilla for a few years, I wanted to diversify my options by making a vanilla extract with bourbon. Specifically, after visiting the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto, Kentucky late last year, I opted for the original Maker’s Mark bourbon which has tasting notes of spiced honey, citrus peels and butterscotch. Here’s how I made it:
Handle of bourbon (approximately 60 ounces)
Place the vanilla beans upright in an extra large, wide-mouth jar with an airtight lid (I used this 64-oz capacity jar) and fill the jar with the entire bottle of bourbon, making sure the vanilla beans are completely submerged. Allow this mixture to sit at room temperature for at least a month, but up to six months before it’s ready to use. This mixture has an indefinite shelf life (as the Barefoot Contessa herself says, hers has been going over a couple of decades!). The key, she says, is to top off the jar whenever the liquid starts to get low. The bonus ingredient that this process yields is vanilla bean paste. Simply pull one of the beans out of the jar, snip the end, and squeeze out as much paste as your recipe calls for. Put the bean back in the jar when you’re done to keep it working.