Homemade Vanilla Extract
The fastest gift to make for giving is homemade vanilla, and it happens to be the one that is most appreciated and remembered. In the time it takes to fill your bottles with spirits and tuck in the beans, you are done. Homemade is far less expensive and more delicious than bottled, have you priced good vanilla recently?
You can use vodka for an unaltered vanilla flavor, bourbon, for a deeper flavor, or dark rum for a very pronounced rum/vanilla accent. For every-day use I prefer the vodka, but make the others for different cooking experiences.
Although this is quick and simple, it needs time to work, and that means patience. Don’t even bother to check it for a few months, so if you are making this as a gift right now, let them know they will have to keep an eye on it for a while.
The technique: In a one-quart canning jar run through the dishwasher, place 15 fresh vanilla beans, slit along its length to release the millions of little black seeds that look like a black gummy paste. Place the split beans in the jar, and fill with the spirits.
Cover, shake, and set aside in a dark place to let it work. I shake it now and then, and occasionally open up to take a whiff to see how it is gestating, and enjoy the perfume. When ready, break down into smaller bottles for ease of use.
At Christmastime when I am making these for gifts, I fill smaller bottles directly, adding the beans according to size, usually two or three, split lengthwise in half. I have some purchased jars, and some I saved that originally contained hot sauce (because it has a cute little wooden top), or even soy sauce because it holds a lot. Add a little label and perhaps a pretty bow, and you are all set!
I buy my vanilla beans online, usually 25 to 40 to a bundle, and they are quite reasonably priced. I prefer Tahitian, but the Madagascar and Mexican are lovely too. Just make sure the beans are nice and plump.
Buy less expensive spirits; this is not the place to use a $2 bean or top shelf vodka!
When the vanilla is all used up, dry out the pod and tuck in a small container of sugar to add flavor and fragrance. Use this on cookies, toast, desserts, and fresh fruit.