I’d like to make my own vanilla extract. What alcohol should I use and how many vanilla beans?
–Karen in Hyattsville
This isn’t the cheapest way to get vanilla extract, but it delivers one unlike most anything you can buy.
Begin with a flavorless 75- to 80-proof grain alcohol or good quality vodka. Look for the cheaper, dryer grade B or “extract” beans, which are better for extract. (For more about vanilla grading and bargains, take a look at this site.)
For every cup of alcohol, figure four to five vanilla beans halved cross-wise, then split down the middle. You want them submerged in the liquid. Give the extract 4 weeks to mellow in a dark, cool place.
Now you have two choices: You could take out the beans, rinse and dry them, and use them again, or you could keep extending the extract for years -- just as you would a bread starter.
To do this keep topping the extract off with more alcohol as you use it, and keep adding vanilla beans you’ve used in other ways (flavoring sugar, cooking into dishes, etc.). Fellow vanilla fanatics react favorably to receiving small bottles of this.
By the way, vanilla sets off summer fruits, especially stone fruits like apricots, peaches and nectarines. In fall add it to apple and pumpkin pies. For something new, pair vanilla with cardamom in sauces for scallops or chicken, or in any dessert you’d like.