It seems that vanilla extract is about as common in baking as flour. Just about every recipe contains a splash of vanilla; and it is no wonder, because of its rich flavor. It is no wonder, since vanilla seems to bring out the best flavors in baking, while subtly adding a flavor of its own.
Back in September, on one of my Spice House adventures, I explored the possibility of creating my own "homemade" vanilla extract. And much to my delight, the process was as simple as could be! In fact, the woman I was speaking with at the Spice House that day had been making her own vanilla extract for years. It was then, that my vanilla-making began; and I must say, I doubt I will ever go back to store bought vanilla extract again. Not only is this method cost efficient, but you get the delight of watching your vanilla beans flavor your extract while having the opportunity to create an extract to your taste. While you may like a stronger, richer flavor, others may prefer a more delicate vanilla flavor. Luckily for you, you can customize yours any way you would like!
Homemade vanilla extract
1 bottle of hard alcohol (I used vodka, though you may experiment with different types of rum or any other alcohol, really!)
6 vanilla beans
That's it! So simple:
1. Cut your vanilla beans length wise. Using the edge of your knife, scrape the small seeds out of the center of the beans. Drop the beans and seeds into your bottle of hard alcohol.
2. Every day, gently shake the bottle. Do not place the bottle in direct sunlight. After about 6-8 weeks, you should have a suitable batch of homemade extract! However, you can adjust this time to your liking: just watch the color and check the smell every so often, and remove the beans when it has reached a flavor of your liking.
3. Strain the beans from the extract and replace the extract in a glass bottle. It is advisable to store your extract in a dark-glass bottle. I simply wrapped my clear glass bottle in a piece of fabric and store it out of direct sunlight. This helps to preserve the flavor of your extract. Though the extract has an indefinite shelf life, if not stored properly, the extract will lose flavor.
Also: no need to purchase top-shelf alcohol. Really, any quality of alcohol will do! However, higher proof of alcohol will yield a stronger extract.
It is important to select a vanilla bean that is of your liking. At the Spice House, there were several varieties of vanilla beans. While selecting them, I focused on the smell. I finally selected the Madagascar vanilla beans, as they were a tad sweeter smelling than the other options.