I'll re-post with an update in a few months when it's finished, so everyone can see the results!
Vanilla extract is vanilla beans and alcohol (most commonly, vodka). It would've been hard to find a simpler do-it-yourself project, really. Here are the instructions, in case you're interested in doing it, too:
- Buy some vanilla beans. I'm not sure if it matters what kind you get. I read that there's an "extract grade" vanilla bean. I bought some that looked delicious from the bulk section at our local grocery store. The proportion for regular vanilla extract is 3 beans to 1 cup of vodka. Apparently there's a "bakers' strength" which is 6 beans to each cup of vodka. I bought 6 beans, and filled the jar with vodka (approximately 6 beans to 1.5 cups vodka—I don't think the proportions can be done wrong, but I'm not an extract expert).
Here are my beans, ready for splitting.
- Split the beans down the middle. Cut down the middle of the bean deep enough to expose the tiny black seeds within, but not so deep that you split it all the way through. (That probably wouldn't be so terrible, though, just a tad bit more messy.) I don't know why I didn't take a photograph of this step, as it's pretty integral to making the extract. All I can say is: vanilla beans are sticky, and they smell amazing.
- Place the beans in a glass jar (or jars) with lid that can be closed tightly. You could buy cute decorative jars (if you're into that) if you're giving the extract as a gift. Or, like I did, you could be frugal and re-use an empty canning jar:
- Cover the beans with vodka. Experimentation with different kinds of liquor can be a fun idea, too, just make sure the alcohol you use is at least 80 proof.
- Store the jar in a cool, dry place.
- Shake it up now, and remember to shake it a few times per week. (Some people are more specific about how often you should shake, like: every day for a week, then at least three times per week for three months; or: twice a week for six months.) Apparently, when the vodka is amber colored, it's ready to use. This might take as little as two months or as long as six. Again, I don't think you can mess it up. Just remember to shake!
- Use for baked treats! I'm looking forward to getting to this step.
4/4/11: The extract is finished! See the update here.