Vanilla extract is called for in just about every baking recipe, but what most people don’t know is that making your own is incredibly easy, and even saves a little cash. (Our vanilla is about 25 percent cheaper than buying it at the store.) Just don’t confuse this recipe with an infused liquor for drinking—the extract is way too concentrated to sip on the rocks.
What to buy: Vanilla beans can be found in the spice or bulk section of most grocery stores. Choose dark, supple, oily pods.
Game plan: Using vodka for the base creates a vanilla extract with a neutral, all-purpose flavor, but we found that other liquors like rum and bourbon could also be used to add different flavors to your baking. Try a rum-based vanilla in rice pudding sprinkled with raisins, or top a steaming mug of Irish Coffee with some bourbon-vanilla whipped cream.
Make sure your jar is very clean or it may impart unintended flavors to the extract.
To get more mileage from the spent pods, tuck them into a jar of granulated sugar for a vanilla-scented sweetener to use in coffee, tea, or cookies.
1Using a paring knife, make an incision in 1 of the vanilla beans starting 1 inch from the end and continuing lengthwise through the remainder of the bean. Repeat with the remaining 2 beans.
2Place the vanilla beans in a 1-pint glass jar with a tightfitting lid. Add the vodka, rum, or bourbon and push the beans down until they are completely submerged. Seal the jar and store it in a cool, dark place for at least 1 month, shaking it once a week. The vanilla flavor will intensify the longer the beans remain in the infusion. Store the extract for up to 1 year. As you use it up, top the jar off with enough liquor to keep the beans submerged, replacing the vanilla beans as they start to lose their flavor (about every 3 to 6 months).