This is another of my Christmas catch-up posts. (And yes, our Christmas palm tree is still up and decorated in our living room.)
This year, I decided to go with homemade gifts for friends and family. One of the things I made was homemade vanilla extract. I had seen several recipes floating around the blogosphere, but felt that most of them called for too low of a vanilla bean to vodka ratio. After a bit of searching around, I found a site that had a good explanation of extract versus vanilla-flavored vodka. The gifts were a hit and I have enjoyed using my own bottle as well. It has a strong, deep vanilla flavor without the added corn syrup and other "extras" in commercial extracts.
And a note from my husband:
I would stress the importance of using a decent quality, neutrally flavored, multiply-distilled and filtered vodka in this recipe. You don't want the coarse, rubbing-alcohol/plastic bottle flavor of cheap vodka overpowering your vanilla. While higher quality is better, you needn't buy Grey Goose. As a rule of thumb, if it's not something you would make a martini with, you don't want to use it in this recipe. If you're unsure, any decent liquor store clerk should be able to direct you to a bottle with the required characteristics.
The extra effort and expense is well worth it - you don't want to waste 6 months making something that ends up tasting like lighter fluid. You'll wish you spent the extra $5.
Adapted from VanillaReview.com
1 oz extract-grade Madagascar vanilla beans
1 cup unflavored vodka (I used Smirnoff.)
1. Cut the beans in half lengthwise with a sharp knife. Scrape out the caviar (seeds) with a butter knife and place in a glass bottle. Cut the bean pods into 1-inch pieces and add to the bottle.
2. Pour in vodka and cap tightly. Shake bottle vigorously a few times a week for 2 months.
3. You can begin using your vanilla extract at the 2-month mark. Flavor will continue to strengthen over the next 4 months.
* You may choose to strain out your vanilla pieces at the six-month mark, although I opted to leave them in.
I ordered the bottles from Specialty Bottle. I chose the Woozy line so that I could use these dripper inserts. I bought my beans from Ebay to save some cash, and had personalized labels printed at My Own Labels. The actual labels say "Merry Christmas from the XXXXX family" at the bottom, but I Photoshopped our name out for blogging purposes.