Whenever I go to my boyfriend's parents' house, I am in awe. Besides having a beautiful home, they have a serious kitchen and are serious bakers. His mum bakes bread that is probably on my top-ten list of favourite things in the world. When discussing baked goods, they use terms like "fine crumb" with confidence, and discuss local croissant offerings with all the seriousness of politics, but without even a hint of pretention in their voices.
His mum is my go-to person for baking inquiries and I always leave their house armed with various tricks. On a recent visit, we talked about making your own vanilla. Much to my suprise, vanilla extract seems not to be an extract at all, but rather an infusion. A bottle of inexpensive vodka, vanilla beans, and patience are all it takes. She even provided the vanilla beans. She also passed on some very decadent looking vanilla bean paste to help speed the infusing along.
The process is remarkably simple. Split open your beans, add to vanilla, and wait a month. The vanilla should be stored in a cool, dark place and shaken periodically. We used 6 beans for a 750ml bottle, costing about $35.00 for more vanilla than I could possibly use up in the next decade. So simple even a kitten could do it.