We’re already almost through November. Can you believe that?! I realize we’re only a week post Thanksgiving and most people don’t want to start thinking about Christmas yet but it is less than 4 weeks away. If you haven’t already, many of you will soon be starting your Christmas shopping lists and trying to come up with something creative to get those special someones on your list.
I’m a giver by nature and I love Christmas shopping for my family and close friends. It brings me so much joy. I’m the kind of gift giver who may or may not ask for recommendations on things you want but always strives to find a gift that will be extra special and meaningful for everyone on my list. This brings me to last year’s gift which is the subject of today’s post.
Have you figured it out?? (The title is a bit of a giveaway…) That’s right! Last Christmas I decided to make homemade vanilla extract for my family and friends. Let me tell you, it was: So. Much. Fun. From researching and purchasing the vanilla beans to selecting and finding the perfect glass bottles to creating my own little gift bags, it was hands down the most fun I’ve ever had in preparing Christmas gifts. This is coming from a self proclaimed non crafty person.
From my grandmas to my aunts my family loves to bake so I knew this would not only be a meaningful gift because I was making it myself, it would also be a gift that would get used over and over and over again as it would last quite a long time. The coolest part was that I had enough beans to give away bottles of vanilla to a multitude of people.
I’ll outline the process I followed below:
First – the beans! This one requires a little bit of research. There are various types of vanilla beans that you can purchase, depending on the flavor profile you’re interested in creating. Here are the main types of vanilla beans, taken from beanilla.com:
- Madagascar Vanilla – rich and creamy
- Mexican Vanilla – bold, dark, smokey
- Indian Vanilla – full, chocolate
- Indonesian Vanilla – mild, well balanced
- Tahitian Vanilla – floral, cherry-chocolate
- Tonga Vanilla – earthy, fig, raisin
I personally wanted the classic creamy flavor typically found in vanilla (but 10 million times better when made yourself) so I opted for Madagascar Vanilla beans, the most commonly used. I purchased my beans on Ebay (50 count) because I found a good deal, but there are many bean suppliers out there. They can be expensive, so shop around.
Grade A, B or C? While I found that there are some differing opinions on this one, I ended up going with Grade B vanilla beans. Grade A beans are considered gourmet and are ideal for cooking purposes. Grade B beans are generally smaller and drier; some may even come cracked. Grade B beans have a lower moisture content and are considered “extract grade”.
Alcohol – This again is personal preference but I used Vodka for a more neutral flavor. Other options include bourbon, brandy and rum. I didn’t buy top shelf stuff either, the alcohol is simply a solvent used to extract the vanilla flavor from the beans.
Bottles – This is where you can start to get creative. There are many different bottle sizes and shapes that you can choose to store your vanilla extract. The color can be a factor as well. I debated between amber bottles, which are great for light sensitive liquids, and clear glass bottles. I eventually went the clear glass route as I wanted my family and friends to be able to watch the vanilla change colors – to me, that’s part of the fun. I simply recommended that the bottles be stored in a dark, cool place, away from direct sunlight.
I ordered my bottles off of SpecialtyBottles.com but Amazon has a good selection as well. I ended up using a couple of these 8 oz bottles because I had plenty of beans, and I gave those to the avid bakers in my life. For the rest of my giveaways, I went with these 4 oz bottles.
Instructions – There are many different vanilla extract recipes available online. They’re all very similar with slight variations here and there. This was the recipe I used to make my vanilla extract. It’s very straightforward and quite simple. There’s really not much to it; no need to over complicate the process!
I made my vanilla on December 10th, just a couple of weeks before Christmas. It’s recommended you let your vanilla brew (giving it a gentle shake every now and then) for at least 8 weeks. You can make it as far ahead of time as you’d like, but I wanted my family and friends to be able to see the progression as the beans slowly turned the alcohol into a deep amber color, even if it meant they had to wait a little longer to use it.
Labels, Tags & Bags – This is where you can really get creative. Maybe you don’t have a lot of extra time and decide to purchase pre-made gift packaging for your vanilla bottles or perhaps you’d rather not wrap them at all. It’s really personal preference. I ordered some cute labels from Etsy for my vanilla extract bottles. While the labels I ordered appear to no longer be available, Etsy offers many other variations (or if you’re feeling craftier than I was, perhaps you’ll be inspired to create your own!).
I used this online template for my bottle tags. (She’s also included a label template if you prefer to print your own rather than purchasing them.) I then went to my local craft store and purchased a couple of sheets of thick decorative paper which I used to print the tags on, as well as some shiny string to secure the tags around my bottles, with the help of a hole punch.
While I was at the craft store, I bought a roll of material and some ribbons for my gift bags. After I got home I measured my bottles, cut the material down accordingly, grabbed a glue gun and went to work! Once I had created the gift bags, I placed a bottle inside each of them and finished each gift bag off with a beautiful ribbon. Voila!
In conclusion, I’m so glad I decided to bite the bullet and learn how to make homemade vanilla extract and by making a large batch, I was able to gift a bottle to my closest family and friends.
Can you keep a secret? Before I decided to learn how to make vanilla myself, I’d never even given a thought to the fact that anything other than imitation existed… I know… I KNOW! Now that I’ve learned how to make the real stuff, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to use anything but. Store bought vanilla extract is also quite expensive. In the long run, it’s much more cost effective to make your own.
Aside from the heavenly smell of homemade vanilla extract, the flavor is impeccably pure. You’ll thank yourself and every time your family and friends use your thoughtful gift, they’ll thank you too.