Just say NO to the insanely overpriced stuff you get in the store in the teeny little bottles -- and especially skip the faux vanilla extract that's not even made with real vanilla.
Now you can make your own! I am so going to do this for us to use here at Casa Dena. It's not that we bake a ton, but I hate paying that high price for something that can so easily be made at home, and for less $. I did a little price comparison, and depending on the ingredients you use, we're talking at least a difference of $1.50 an ounce v. $2.40 an ounce!
I also think this would make a fantastic gift -- if you make it now, this could potentially be ready as a lovely holiday gift this year. (Okay now I think I have officially channeled Martha Stewart. And I'm loving it.)
Mike's Homemade Vanilla Extract
Generously and graciously submitted by a friend I like to call my dessert fairy godmother (pun intended), Mike. He's been to pastry school and back, and the man knows sweet things. His dog is even named Sugar!
Start with a good bottle of vodka (750 ml) -- Ketel One, Belvedere, or Grey Goose will do. Best prices are at Costco, Sams, or BevMo.
You need 9 vanilla beans. You can get these at a specialty store as they are cheaper and better quality than what you can buy at the grocery store. FYI decent beans are expensive -- approximately $1.25 to $2 a bean. I like the Bourbon/Madagascar the best.
Cut only the ends off of 3 beans, snip the next 3 beans into 1/2 inch pieces with kitchen scissors, and split the last 3 beans in half. Add all of the vanilla beans to the vodka. (Dena's note: if you're using your own fancy bottle to, say, make this as a gift, put the beans into the fancy bottle first, then pour the vodka into the bottle over the beans.)
Let it sit in a cool, dark place for 6-9 months and you'll have all the vanilla you'll need for a year. The vanilla leaches into the vodka, creating an extract. I start a new bottle when I'm halfway through the old one. (Dena's note: Did I mention he is an amazing pastry chef who bakes up a storm?)
* Bonus recipe: Once you use all of the extract, take the beans out of the bottle and cover them with sugar. This will create a mild vanilla sugar. For stronger sugar, use a fresh bean.