Something new for this year's Christmas goodie bags: homemade vanilla extract. You need to start this one a little bit in advance...around four to six weeks ahead of time...so plan accordingly.
The nice thing about making your own vanilla extract is that it isn't difficult to do and it takes only a few supplies.
First step is to choose the type of vanilla bean you want to use. Here are some varieties and the characteristics of each.
Madagascar - the strongest, most intense vanilla flavor with a full body
Bourbon - notes of berry and ripe fruit
Mexican - sweet and smooth, mellow and spicy
Tahitian - delicate, exotic, and floral
Tonga - rich, full flavored
Indonesian - sweet and woody
India - high percentage of seeds, sweet, woody, and spicy
I ordered some Madagascar beans for my first attempt at this and they just arrived yesterday. The smell from the package was almost overwhelming.
Ingredients and equipment
Large mason jar
Lid and screw down ring
2 cups vodka
6 vanilla beans
Cut the beans in half lengthwise.
Add the beans to the jar.
Cover with the vodka.
Store in a cool, dark place and shake every couple of days for at least a month. The longer you let it stand, the more intense the flavor will be.
When you get it to the point you like it, strain in through a coffee filter or cheesecloth into dark bottles and seal tightly.
You can vary the flavor by using different combinations of beans or adding another spice during storage.
Add a few buds of edible lavender.
Add a whole clove.
Add a part of a cinnamon stick.
Add a teaspoon of brandy per 8 ounces. You can also make the vanilla in brandy or rum for a different flavor.
12/9 UPDATE: It has been a few weeks since I started the vanilla and it already looks great! This is definitely the way to go to make vanilla extract.