Make Your Own Vanilla Extract
Vanilla extract is one of my go-to ingredients when I am looking for an extra boost of flavor. Baked goods get a luxurious upgrade when vanilla is used. When I want to amp up my oatmeal or granola, vanilla extract is the perfect thing. It even seems to make chocolate taste more chocolatey.
"Pure" vanilla extract can consist of as little as two ingredients, vanilla beans and alcohol. Commercial extracts often have various additives including, corn syrup, food coloring, glucose, and propolyne glycol. By making my vanilla extract from scratch, I control the ingredients (or lack of).
When I learned to make my own vanilla extract, I was floored by how easy and inexpensive it is. I could basically make it from leftovers. It can be made from vanilla pods that have already had their beans scraped out and used for another purpose, a great way to save those precious vanilla bean pods after the seeds have gone to something like ... spiced peaches. If you decide you use a whole pod, seeds and all, your extract will darken faster and it will have some tiny seeds in it when you go to use it.
Vanilla beans can be expensive, especially at specialty food stores. At one particular store, I saw the price at $13 for one bean! The best price I have seen at retail store is $2.50 per bean. Now, I buy my beans online. I get better prices, and I have more control over where they are coming from. I make sure I get natural fair trade beans. I pay $0.50 per bean at my favorite online retailer (that is their nonbulk, single bean price).
I have found that an old spice jar is the perfect container for this, but any re-purposed resealable glass jar, from a classic mason jar to a fancy vinegar jar, will be great. Just make sure you clean and dry it well. If you use a large jar and wish to make a bigger batch, keep the ratio of vodka to beans fairly constant, it's not a science, but too few beans to alcohol will make for weak-flavored extract.
Feel free to pick up the most inexpensive vodka you can find, but make sure it is flavorless. I found a 750 ml (over 3 cups) bottle for $5.29. Since it won't go bad, I can use it over time to make more vanilla extract or maybe to make some penne alla vodka, or to clean my couch cushions. Better yet, I might make extra vanilla extracts and give them as host/hostess gifts.
resealable small glass jar (I re-purpose a spice jar)
unflavored vodka (about 1/2 cup)
vanilla bean (with or without beans scraped out)
Split vanilla bean vertically by running the knife tip down lengthwise to expose inside; leave 1/2 inch at one end connected. Place the vanilla bean in your glass jar and fill with vodka. Make sure the entire bean is submerged. Secure lid on glass jar. Put jar in a safe place and shake once in a while. This is what it should look like after two weeks:
Begin using extract after about six weeks or when the liquid becomes a darkish amber color and smells distinctly of vanilla (the alcohol smell with remain as well). The flavor with continue to enhance and develop over time. The extract will last indefinitely, however, when the bean can no longer stay submerged, remove pod and toss. This is what the extract looks like when it is ready to use:
To make never-ending vanilla extract, as the extract diminishes, continue to fill with vodka and add any spent vanilla beans you use during your everyday cooking. You may want to remove the older beans as you add newer ones.