Sweetly spicy and aromatic, vanilla is probably the most used flavouring in the cottage kitchen. It’s a comforting base note in cookies and hot chocolates, pancakes and muffins and almost everything I bake has a teaspoon of dark brown vanilla extract, a sticky scraping of tiny vanilla beans or an infusion of the fragrant, black pod.
In fact, I use so much vanilla that, at one stage last year, I found myself ordering a stash online (thank you eBay!) and using them to make a whole vodka bottle (70cl) of vanilla extract. Clever? Why yes, I thought so – until we moved house, transported what we used to call our drinks press (the random bottles that lived under the stairs) to the brewery for storage – and they never came home. When packing, I made the fatal mistake of putting my bottle of vanilla infused vodka, aka vanilla extract, into that box rather than the need-to-keep-close-by box.
So where is it now? Sitting somewhere in the brewery attic, alternately baking and freezing (insofar as one bakes and freezes in the current Irish climate) and turning the vanilla into god-only-knows-what. Before I sent that bottle into limbo, I decanted about half of it but now, with that empty, it’s time to make another batch.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
I use inexpensive supermarket vodka for this. You can also steep the vanilla pods in brandy or rum if you want those flavours in your baking but vodka is the best neutral alcohol for the job.
12 plump, fat moist vanilla pods
70cl bottle of vodka
Using a sharp knife or scissors, split the vanilla pods in half lengthways to expose the beans.
Decant a shot (or two) of vodka from the bottle to make space: it’s up to you what you do with it!
Poke the vanilla pods into the bottle and close tightly. Keep in a dark place, shaking occasionally, and let sit for at least 6 months before using.
Makes: enough vanilla extract to keep you in baking supplies for quite a while.