Vanilla essence/extract is one basic flavouring used in many recipes; basic sponge, butter or cupcakes. For a novice baker, the cheapest and most convenient way to get vanilla essence is from supermarkets or baking stores, e.g. Bake King's vanilla essence ($1.35 per bottle of 26ml).
However, after baking for some time, one will realise that the taste of the baked product depends heavily on the type of ingredients used. By that I am referring to the specifics; i.e. brand of butter, flour, etc. With so many commercial brands available, quality and price are two things I look out for when I buy my ingredients. Best-value-for-money is my mantra.
So why not invest in making your own vanilla essence? It is much simpler than you think; all you need is some good quality vanilla beans and vodka.
12 vanilla bean pods (I used Madagascar Bourbon Extract Grade B Vanilla Beans from Vanilla Products USA)
400ml unflavoured vodka (I used Absolute)
500ml capacity air-tight container/jar/bottle (I got mine from IKEA)
1. Make a slit alongside vanilla beans to expose the inner seeds.
2. Place pods inside container and pour in vodka. Ensure that the pods are submerged. The essence will be ready for use in 3-6 months
Where do you buy your vanilla beans?
Thanks to a highly informative post by Noobcook, I bought my beans from Vanilla Products USA on ebay. I ordered 25 beans and was given a free 3 Pack of Extract Grade B Split Madagascar Bourbon Planifolia Vanilla Beans. After adding in shipping charges and currency rates, I paid SGD$29 for 28 beans. This works out to be about $1 per stick which is highly affordable. Shipping took 8 working days.
Vanilla beans are also available in major baking stores. In my last trip to Phoon Huat, two sticks of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans were going at $10.20. They also offer vanilla beans from Indonesia which costs about $20-ish per pack and Red Man brand vanilla beans which costs $10 for a pack of 10.
My recommendation is that if you are willing to wait for a couple of days, purchase your beans online as they ship directly to you and you get better quality beans. Another website you may wish to check out is Beanilla. Both websites have information on making your own vanilla essence and recommendations on the type of bean you should buy.
How to store your vanilla beans?
I placed my beans in the original packaging and double-sealed them in 2 ziplock bags. They are then stored in air tight box and kept in a cool, dark cupboard. Try to squeeze out the air when packing.
Where do you buy your container/jar/bottle?
You can use any glass container but I decided to get a brand new from IKEA. Two options caught my eye there, Option A KORKEN Bottle with stopper, clear glass, capacity 1L, selling at $3 or Option B KORKEN Jar with lid, clear glass, capacity 500ml, selling at $3. I went with Option B as I wanted something small and compact. It also comes with a rubber stopper which makes it airtight.
I also spotted a bottle at Lemon Zest at Holland V, Kilner Clip Top Bottle, capacity 0.55L but it was selling at $10.90 (way off my budget). If you don't mind indulging a little, this bottle will be a lovely addition to your pantry.