Way back in mid-October, I’d already decided on the treat-trifecta I would be doling out to friends and family during the holidays: vanilla extract, handmade orecciette, and candied citrus peels. It is currently t-minus 3 days to christmas, and I have completed one of those items. Well, one and a half . . . ish. I made one gift bag of orecciette for a yankee swap; it took up three hours of my time and a majority of my counter space. Doing that again, for a dozen more gifts? Nuh uh. Not happening. And as for the citrus peels, watching a pot of boiling sugar water for several hours and cleaning stickiness off of everything in my kitchen is pretty much at the top of my list of Things I Don’t Want To Do right now. But in my world, where ambition is constantly pitted against laziness-fueled procrastination, one out of three ain’t bad.
Because I love the idea of homemade vanilla extract so much (which—to give credit where credit is due—I originally discovered here), I really wanted to post this in late November / early December, so that you too might have a chance to make your own and delight all of the bakers on your gift list. It’s hard to find a more perfect gift for a habitual baker. Not only is it practical, adorable, and easy to make (once you’ve collected all the components), it is also virtually endless. Every time I run out of vanilla extract, I wind up in the baking aisle, begrudgingly scanning the bottles and trying to convince myself that it really is ok to spend $7+ on a tiny amount of liquid, because I will only be using it a teaspoon at a time. But this will be a problem no more! Once you begin to run low, you just add a little more vodka.
Anyway, since I’m way too late to inspire any of you to make this yourselves (for this holiday season, at least), I would like to give a few away! It’s the least I can do. Please forgive me for being lazy. I’ve got three up for grabs. Just comment on this post by midnight on Sunday. I will choose the three people at random, and announce the winners early next week. Hurray for free things!
Now, for those of you who would like to make your own extract, here’s how it’s done. First, you need a bunch of vanilla beans. I purchased a half pound of bourbon vanilla beans from Beanilla. Next, you’ll need a bunch of 4 oz. bottles and caps (I bought a couple dozen from the Specialty Bottle company). And last, you’ll need some vodka. The cheap stuff is fine, just make sure it’s unflavored. Also, the higher proof, the better. (A higher proof vodka means better extraction. If you can purchase Everclear in your state, I highly recommend using that. If not, go with something 100 proof or more.) As for labels, I just bought some label paper from staples and made my own. If you don’t feel like bothering with that, there are plenty of places online where you can get custom labels.
Now that you have all the pieces, start by cutting up the beans. First, cut them in half. Then split each one down the side, making the yummy goodness (“caviar”) inside more accessible.
And then, stick the beans in the bottle and pour in the vodka.
Seal it, and you’re done. This will begin to look and smell like extract after only 24 hours, but you should let it steep for about 6 weeks for it to reach its full vanilla-ness. As I mentioned before, just keep adding a little vodka when you start to run low. If it seems weak after a while, just throw in another vanilla bean. Three cheers for never buying the store-bought stuff again!