I was watching the Barefoot Contessa around Thanksgiving and had an epiphany when she showed how to make your very own high quality vanilla extract. It’s such an expensive ingredient if you get the good stuff, and of course (especially around the holidays) I tend to sail through my supply. Because I always try to use the very best ingredients possible, especially for baking, having a stock of vanilla is such a great idea. My jaw dropped when Ina said that she’s had her jar for 25 years, and just keeps topping it off with vodka! Here’s how to make it:
15 Bourbon grade Madagascar vanilla beans
2 liters vodka (1 handle of vodka is 1.75 liters)
Place the vanilla beans upright in a 2-liter jar with an airtight lid and fill the jar with vodka, making sure the vanilla beans are completely submerged. Allow this mixture to sit at room temperature for at least a month, but up to six months before it’s ready to use. This mixture has an indefinite shelf life (as the Barefoot Contessa herself says hers has been going over a couple of decades!). The key, she says, is to refill the jar with vodka when the liquid starts to get low. The bonus ingredient that this process yields is vanilla bean paste. Simply pull one of the beans out of the jar, snip the end, and squeeze out as much paste as your recipe calls for. Put the bean back in the jar when you’re done to keep it working.