Homemade Vanilla Extract: Giveaway!

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!

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All-Butter Pie Crust and Blind Baking

I’ll be honest with you, this is only the second pie crust I’ve ever made. I have, however, made a lot of pies. A lot. I dated this guy. He was a workout nut. And a pumpkin pie fiend. (I feel the need to note the former to explain his appetite for the latter.) I made him two pies per week for I don’t even know how long. Countless pumpkin pies. Countless frozen crusts. You should try telling someone that you made one person two pies every week for several months straight. They look at you like they don’t even know what to think of you.

This was my first attempt at blind baking. (For anyone who doesn’t know: Blind baking is just the pre-baking of a pie crust. You would do this if you were making a pie with a filling that had a shorter baking time than the crust, or involved no baking whatsoever. It will also help you avoid a soggy pie bottom. No one wants that!)

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Homemade Butter

That’s right. That delicious stuff you’re buying in the store, those tasty blocks that come wrapped in paper and packaged four-at-a-time in little 1-lb boxes—you can make that.

Not only is homemade butter so much yummier than the store-bought kind, it’s also easy to make. This can be done several different ways. You can use a mixer, a food processor, or a container of some sort. I prefer the container method because it allows for a slow churn, rather than an unbridled whip that risks incorporating buttermilk back into the butter, so that’s what I will explain here.

All you’ll need is:

  • 1 pint of heavy cream
  • a 2-pint* or larger container (I used a 1-liter bottle)
  • cheesecloth (I use a gold filter)
  • salt

*You will need to use a container that is at least twice the volume of the cream.

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Basic Egg Pasta Dough

When I learned how easy it was to make fresh pasta dough, I couldn’t believe it. Just mix together some flour and eggs, and knead for a bit? Yeah, I think I can handle that.

So, what can you do with this? Many, many things. Roll it out to make ravioli or lasagna. Tear off little blobs and smush your thumb into them to make orecchiette. Mix it with potato to make gnocchi. Run it through a pasta crank to make spaghetti. The list goes on! I’ve even entertained the idea of rolling out the dough, slicing it into thin strips, rounding them out, and wrapping them around a skewer to make fusilli. (I’ll save that project for when I start to get the dead-of-winter crazies).

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Stovetop Popcorn

I know what some of you are thinking. Really? You’re going to tell me how to make popcorn? Maybe next you can give specific instructions on toasting bread. Hear me out (and stop being so sarcastic). Others of you might be saying, “Oh yeah, I already know how to do this. You take this bag filled with stuff, put it in a microwave, hit the Popcorn button, and come back in a few minutes.” Okay, yes, that does work too. But at least listen to the reasons why I am a huge advocate for stovetop popcorn:

(1) You should know how to do this in case you are ever in a situation where you don’t have a microwave. I know, who doesn’t have a microwave, right? (I don’t, actually. I’ve been without one for almost two years, and I’m surprised by how much I don’t miss it!)

(2) It’s cheaper. I buy popcorn in bulk, and it costs about $3.00/lb. (16 oz.). Your average 3-bag pack of microwave popcorn will run you around $3.50 (and each of those packs is only about 3 oz.). Plus, you won’t be wasting all those packages and bags.

(3) Ingredient control. What exactly is in those bags of microwave popcorn anyway? I know you can get plain ones and all-natural ones and what not, but it’s nice to know exactly what went into your tasty snack. And starting from scratch means you have control over all of the flavors going into your popcorn, beginning with the oil. Which brings me to my secret ingredient . . .

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