Sunday, January 19, 2014

Holiday Gifts 2013: Just Add Vodka

by EP

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This year, while I made plenty of cookies, I didn't give them away as formal holiday gifts, as I've done in the past. I wanted to do something a little different. I was inspired by my friend Ginger, who gave me a small bottle of homemade vanilla extract last year, which I used in all my baking until it was gone. I cleverly told everyone that whatever treat I'd made was made with "local vanilla."

This year I decided I'd completely steal the idea and do the same. But with homemade vanilla, you have to start early - most sources say it takes at minimum 3 months for the vanilla beans and vodka to soak long enough for a good vanilla flavor. So in September, right after we got back from our amazing Alaskan cruise, I bought a bottle of mid-level vodka (Smirnoff), and ordered some vanilla beans from Beanilla (25 Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla beans for $25 - note that this is a bargain compared to prices at grocery stores, which are something like $7 for 2 beans).

I consulted some websites to find out what the ratio of beans to vodka should be, and they varied widely: some said for every 8 oz vodka, use 3-5 beans; but Martha said just 2 beans per cup would be enough. I had a 750 mL bottle of vodka, which is approximately 25 oz, about 3 cups. I think I used about a dozen beans. I split the beans almost all the way down, and popped them in the vodka bottle.

Then I let the vanilla hang out for a couple of months, giving it a shake every now and again. I kept it in my cupboard with my oils and vinegars, so whenever I was in there rooting around for something, I'd give the bottle a shake.

I ended up bottling the vanilla around the new year, so it steeped for 4 months. I purchased little 2-oz Boston round glass bottles from Amazon (making sure they would be food-safe). Once I had filled all the bottles I could, I added a few more fresh (split) vanilla beans to the old ones, and added more vodka to the bottle. I'll have another batch in a few months!

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Then there was the matter of the label. Ginger's bottles had had cute little labels and I wanted to do the same. I consulted with my good friend Marissa, who is an illustrator and designer, and she designed a fantastic label for me. I am so in love with it! I purposely did not include a date (e.g., Holidays 2013) so I could continue to use these labels in the future.

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She suggested that the design be printed on clear vinyl labels from and that's exactly what I did. I uploaded the design and they were in touch with a proof, which I approved, and then I got them in the mail a few days later. I love how they turned out! Thank you Marissa!!

The label pre-printing

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So there you have it - a homemade gift that will last for months, makes baked goods delicious, and has no calories!

Happy new year,


  1. So cute! Man, I love the internet. I was just noticing how every step of this process you used the web- research, ordering supplies, consulting with designers/vendors, and, of course, posting about it! If only you could have ordered that vodka online...

    I just cracked open my Podolny potion this weekend to use in my choc chip cookies- so I'll be giving some of it back to you in cookie form!

  2. i had no idea you could make vanilla extract period! Educational.


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