Homemade vanilla extract is easy and fun to make. It isn’t as strong as commercial vanilla extracts but it may have a somewhat fuller flavor than extracts from the market. But the real pleasure is in making it.
It doesn’t matter which alcohol you choose for making extract – it’s more a question of which alcohol you prefer.
Vodka has the least flavor to interfere with the taste of the vanilla. Because rum is sweet, it’s the best for making cordials, and vanilla brandy is lovely to pour over freshly baked cakes or to add to stewed winter fruits.
You can also add additional spices to the alcohol to make a spiced rum, vodka or brandy. In Reunion, Madagascar, and the Caribbean countries, most families have their own spiced rum blends that they serve for sipping. Sometimes medicinal herbs are added to the alcohol and used for coughs or stomach ailments.
For gift making, decant the extract into unusual bottles, add one vanilla bean to each bottle and attach a label and voilà, yo, you have a very attractive gift.
I sometimes tie a couple of extra beans to the bottle with raffia and include directions for making more extract.
You can also turn your homemade extract into a vanilla cordial for a truly unique and elegant gift that will be greatly appreciated as it’s used.
Split five vanilla beans lengthwise down the center to expose the seeds, keeping the ends of the beans intact. Place beans in a pint of high-quality vodka, rum or brandy. Store in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard or closet for at least four weeks. Shake the bottle several times a week.
To use, either remove four of the beans for another purpose (you can add them with a fresh bean to make more extract, or you can use them for cooking), or let all the beans remain in the bottle, and periodically, add more alcohol to keep the bottle replenished. Eventually the beans will lose their strength but they should contain flavor for many months.
Follow the above directions for making extract. When the extract is at least four weeks old, remove the beans from the bottle and place in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup sugar and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to boil about 3 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
Pour the syrup through the sieve lined with fresh cheesecloth into a clean bottle. Next, pour the extract through the sieve into the bottle. Add a vanilla bean to the bottle if desired. Allow the cordial to mellow at least one week before using. If you want a cordial that isn’t quite this strong, double the amount of simple syrup.