Vanilla extract is one ingredient that it pays not to skimp on. It adds a certain depth of flavor to so many items and it’s flavor simply cannot be imitated. However, it’s also an item that super expensive. Since I use it so frequently, I make my own extract. I save money and I prefer the taste over so many commercial varieties. Besides, it’s incredibly simple.
Just two ingredients. Vanilla beans and vodka. To save money, I buy my vanilla beans in bulk online. My preferred vanilla resource would be The Arizona Vanilla Company, but I’ve also had success with Amazon as well. For one batch of vanilla, you’ll need about 12 beans. Vanilla from different regions of the world have different characteristics (and different prices). The Tahitian variety are actually a different species than those grown in Madagascar and Mexico. Over the years, I’ve tried and enjoy them all. My favorite “everyday” vodka would be Tito’s. It’s very reasonably priced for the (lack of) taste. To me a good vodka should be almost flavorless and smooth. If you use the cheap varieties, the taste can be a bit like paint thinner. Tito’s is an award-winning company that’s managed to maintain very reasonable prices, though the price has been increasing over the years. With extract though, I’ve also used higher end brands, like Kettle One, as well, with indistinguishable success. Basically, you want to taste the vanilla. The alcohol is just the vehicle that extracts those flavors from the beans.
Once you’ve used the extract, you can still scrape the remains from the pods into marshmallows, ice cream or creme brûlée. Those beans won’t retain as much flavor as fresh beans, but they do add a bit. When added alongside your extract, the flavor is unmistakable.
Don’t throw away the pods after you’ve scraped the seeds either! I throw those into my sugar canister to make vanilla sugar.
To make the extract, place a dozen vanilla beans in an air-tight jar. Top with 750 mL vodka. (This can be scaled down if you don’t want to make quite so much: 3-4 beans + 1 cup vodka.). Allow to sit in a dark spot for at least a month before using. Apparently the flavor of extract peaks at 2 years, but it will keep for even longer than that.