My mom would tell you with complete confidence that my favorite smell in the world is vanilla.
She'd probably be wrong, because my favorite smell has recently become lavender, I think. Except that I don't pick favorites ever, because why have a favorite when you can have one of EVERYthing? That's my policy and I stand by it.
However, vanilla is high up on the list of smells. And tastes.
The first time I'd ever used homemade vanilla extract was as a young teen, when my best friend pulled a vodka bottle out of her (Mormon household) pantry, and I was like, ummmmm, we don't drink alcohol... She convinced me it was okay, and I've been in love with it ever since.
The flavors are so much stronger, more developed, and more pure. And it could not be a more simple process.
Grab yo'self some alcohol. Both vodka and bourbon work. I'm trying bourbon for the first time, so I'll let you know if I love it as much as I've loved by vodka vanilla. Also, go ahead for the cheaper version of the alcohol. You don't need the fancy stuff here.
Next, have some vanilla beans on hand. I buy mine online, because I have yet to find a place locally that will sell them for less than an arm, a leg, and my first born, plus tax. I've only purchased from this store, but I'm sure you'll find your favorite reputable place.
Firstly, dump out a tablespoon or two of alcohol from the bottle. I forgot that step, and this happened:
Vodka alllll over the table.
Now get out your cutting board and a pointed tip knife (I went with a paring). Perform surgery and slice right down the middle of that bean, the long way. Cut that guy right open! But DON'T scrape the seeds out.
Slide your slit open beans into the alcohol bottle. For these smaller bottles, a little less than two cups of liquid maybe, I added four good, fat vanilla beans. For my bigger bottle of vodka, you can see eight to ten beans in there. The exact amount of beans to alcohol isn't as important as letting them steep together for an appropriate amount of time to get the vanilla essence all up in the alcohol's business.
Now that the vanilla beans and vodka are acquainted, screw the lid on tight, and give it a few good shakes.
This will loosen the seeds from their pods, and you can see them floating around! Yum.
Now, just store your bottle(s) in a cool, dark place, and here's the hard part... wait about a month or two, at least. For the first week or two, take you bottle out and give it a good shake each day. After that, you can shake the bottle ever few days.
Husband says this makes me look like a closet alcoholic housewife, storing my booze deep in a cabinet.
Once the vanilla gives off a good strong vanilla-y smell, and has taken on a lot of deep color, it's ready to use! You can see the difference in my vodka colors, pre- and post-vanilla beans.
And as a bonus feature: here's a quick run down of how to properly store vanilla beans once they're out of their vacuum packed environment. You'll need two ziploc bags, a mason jar, and a straw (not pictured).
Put your beans in one ziploc bag. Seal all but the corner, and press out, then suck out, any extra air. It's awesome, because you get to taste what vanilla air tastes like.
Next, slip this bag into the second bag, and repeat the push-out, suck-out air situation. Seal it up tight. Slip this bag-in-a-bag into the mason jar, and seal it tight! And presto. These will keep for at least a month or two (and I definitely know I kept some of mine for upwards of nine to ten months).
Happy Vanilla Making!