There's nothing like a useful, homemade gift. Truly. A gift card says I care about you (or had to buy you an obligatory present) while a homemade gift says You're awesome or I love you. Which isn't to say gift cards suck. They don't. I mean, it's free money. Everyone likes that.
But a handmade gift? That takes time, consideration and purposeful thought. Nothing says I appreciate you like a hand embroidered tea towel with a purple poodle on it. After all, your Great Aunt Louise labored over it for hours. And you could always use extra dusting rags. ;)
In all seriousness, making awesome gifts for holidays and special occasions is beneficial in numerous ways:
Perks of Making Homemade Gifts
1) It insures your gift is unique. Nothing sucks more than gifting an awesome present to someone only to find out they already own it or that another person gave it to them already.
2) It increases the chance that your gift will actually get used. Unlike the eighth tie, pair of socks or random newfangled doohickey that is often stashed in the back of closets or drawers after the holidays.
3) It's generally less expensive than buying the popular name brand products people covet for holiday gifts. Not always, but often. It depends on the type and quality of materials you're using for projects. Generally, though, it'll cost you less money to make handmade presents, so if you have a small budget, this is a great alternative.
Planning Ahead: A Little Effort Now, Way Less Stress Later
However, homemade gifts typically require a bit of pre-planning and forethought. This is why I'm posting my homemade vanilla extract recipe in October instead of early December. So you guys can learn the easy techniques for making vanilla extract and get a head start on the holidays. If you make these ahead of time that's one less thing to worry about. It also means if you save a container for yourself you can bake some amazing holiday treats!
I gave bourbon vanilla extract away in 4 oz glass mason jars for Christmas last year, but made them a few days beforehand so my friends and family didn't get to use the extracts until January or February. This year I made my extracts in early September! Whoop, whoop! Except this time I'm selling them in my Etsy shop (they should be up in the next week or so) and trying my hand at different handmade gifts for the family.
(Side note: I have my suspicions that one or two of my gift recipients drank the "vanilla bourbon" before it became extract! No one has fessed up yet.)
Homemade Extracts > Store-Bought Extracts
Store-bought extracts are either expensive, mixed with "other" ingredients or fake. Yep. I'm sure you've seen the bottles. "Imitation" vanilla is the most popular. Please don't buy that stuff. I don't even know why they exist. I guess for people that can't have alcohol? Most of the time you're only using a tiny bit of extract and if you're heating it the alcohol cooks off. Even worse, some major brands are labeling their products "pure vanilla extract" but they have corn syrup in them! Gross!!! That's another great reason to opt for homemade.
There's just no substitution for the real stuff. Especially when you can add as many vanilla beans as you like to make it super potent. And if you're in the camp that abstains from all alcohol, check out this alcohol-free vanilla extract recipe from my friend at Small Footprint Family.
However, I really recommend trying it with bourbon!
Oh, and one last thing if you're making more than one or two extracts PLEASE buy your vanilla beans online. They are SO OVERPRICED in stores. Like, 5-7 dollars for one vanilla bean. It's such a rip-off! There are so many places to shop for beans online. A few sites of the most popular sites are still pricy, so I buy mine in bulk from here and here for a great deal.
How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract with Vodka and Bourbon
Learn how to make homemade vanilla extract with vodka or bourbon. These are perfect for holiday gifts and are much more potent and less expensive than store-bought vanilla extracts.
Yield: 1 3-4 ounce container of vanilla extract (I recommend making a bunch at once)
3-4 ounces of decent vodka or bourbon
1 whole vanilla pod (bean), split (order vanilla beans here)
4 ounce glass mason jars, 4 oz amber glass bottles or 8 ounce swing top glass bottles
Get your containers ready. Set them out in a row (or rows) and take the lids off. Place a vanilla bean on a cutting board and using a sharp knife slice it almost in half lengthwise. So go close to the bottom, but don't cut all the way through. Spread the bean out with your fingers so more of the vanilla beans are exposed.
If the bottles are small (4 ounce or less) you'll likely need to cut the bean in halve or quarters horizontally so they fit in the bottle. If you want them to look extra pretty, you can wrap the bean around the inside of the container, but make sure that it stays securely under the alcohol.
Place each bean in a container. If you're using a 2 oz container, you can use as little as 1/2 a bean, although the more the merrier. For an 8 ounce container (what's pictured below), use at least 2 whole vanilla beans. Alternately, if you're making a big batch you can place all the beans and alcohol in one large glass container to soak until it's ready and then pour out what you need. Just make sure you keep the same (or higher) ratio of beans to alcohol that I recommend.
Pour the allotted amount of alcohol over each bean, making sure it's completely submerged. Screw on the cap securely and give it a good shake. Do this with all the extracts and place them in a cool, dimly lit area to steep.
The first week you make the vanilla extract, shake the containers 3-4 times and after that try and do it once a week to disperse the beans. The vanilla beans need a minimum of 30 days (1 month) before they can be used; however, it'll be more potent after 60-90 days (2-3 months). Some folks even prefer six months aged vanilla.
The coolest thing is after you've used some of your vanilla extract, you can simply refill it with more alcohol. It will continue to grow in potency. After awhile you'll probably want to replace your vanilla beans with fresh ones (maybe after a year), but don't throw the old beans away. Let them dry out for a few hours and then stick them in a bag of sugar to make vanilla sugar!
Notes & Tips
Keep in mind that homemade extract will have a slightly stronger alcohol scent and taste (at least in the early stages); however, when you use it in cooking most of the alcohol will evaporate. The bourbon should impart a slight, well, bourbon taste to whatever you're using it in; whereas the vodka vanilla extract is more neutral and best for everyday use.
In case you were curious, I used bourbon madagascar vanilla beans, which are popular. There are several others to choose from. I've wanted to try Tahitian for while now.
Many people opt for dirt cheap alcohol when they make extracts, but here's my motto: if you wouldn't drink it straight, don't put it in your food. So I typically buy 1.75 liter containers of mid tier or lower-mid tier alcohol, but I look for ones that have good ratings.
Never had bourbon vanilla extract before? I recommend trying it in cookies or whipped cream your first time.
More DIY recipes from The Rising Spoon:
- How to Make Whipped Cream From Scratch in Five Minutes
- Homemade Gingerbread Spice Mix with a Kick
- How to Prepare and Cook Dried Beans For Optimal Nutrition
- How to Make Basil Salt: an Easy DIY Gourmet Finishing Salt
- Homemade Lemon Pepper Seasoning
- Homemade Lemon Sugar Scrub
- 25 Homemade Holiday Gift Projects to Start Right Now
Question for Discussion: What's your favorite DIY recipe to make for the kitchen?
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