I have been making my own vanilla extract for a few years now. Once I tried it it seemed ridiculous to go back to buying it. Making your own is cheaper and I believe produces a better quality flavor. Plus, it's super simple!
This time around I used Madagascar beans because they're super cheap over at Beanilla right now (they should really be paying me for all this advertising I've been doing for them!) However, I've also really enjoyed the flavors of Tongan, Ugandan, Tahitian and Bourbon. Tongan beans produces a rare and unique vanilla flavor. Ugandan pairs well with deep chocolate flavors. Tahitian is possibly my favorite- the vanilla flavor is unreal (Tahitian Vanilla Bean ice cream, anyone?). Bourbon beans have probably the most common and familiar vanilla flavor. Madagascar beans are my other favorite and the variety I've used most often; the flavor is strong and pairs well with just about everything. I wasn't too terribly impressed with the Mexican beans when I tried them, but that also may have been the alcohol I paired it with so I'd be willing to give them another go. I have yet to try their Indonesian and Indian beans- those will be next!
I have found that ordering beans online, no matter the website, to be less expensive and of higher quality. You want to make sure the beans feel oily; if they are too dried out you won't get much flavor out of them. So be sure to store any extra beans in an airtight container. I store mine in glass vials which do a great job of preserving the moisture of the beans.
The other decision you must make is what type of alcohol you want to use. I have had the best results with Vodka, Spiced Rum and Bourbon. It doesn't need to be a high quality alcohol (I usually just pick one with a pretty bottle and good price). You can either store the extract in the bottle the alcohol came in (if it has a good seal) or I've found these bottles to work very well.
I've found using a ratio of 3 beans per 12 ounces to be sufficient because I leave the beans in the bottle and they continue to release more flavor over time. However, if you are looking to remove the beans or for faster results, I would suggest a ratio of 6-8 beans per 12 ounces.
Making the vanilla extract is an easy four part process.
Step One: With a sharp knife, slice the beans length-wise down the middle.
Step Two: Using the blade of your knife, scrap the "caviar" from the inside of the beans.
Step Three: Deposit the caviar and now-scraped beans into an airtight bottle containing the alcohol.
Step Four: Shake it like a Polaroid picture! (Once you've sealed the bottle of course)
And then the hardest part of all is the waiting. The extract won't be ready to use for two months at the earliest, but it's really best after six months. Feel free to smell it every once in awhile- it'll smell better and better everyday. Once it's ready, you can remove the beans and pour the extract through a coffee filter to remove the caviar and any other pieces of the beans that may be floating around. However, like I said above, I keep the beans in. Once it's made, you'll have an endless supply of extract- just keep adding more beans and more alcohol and give it a shake every once in awhile.
Vanilla extract also makes a great gift. Apart from just giving it to those people who love to bake, you can create an aromatherapy kit. Present the extract with some rosemary, lavender or jasmine with instructions to warm it on a stove top to create an inviting and relaxing smell in their home.
Now, because I'm such a fan of homemade vanilla extract I want to share the love with you guys and host a giveaway! My first ever! Hooray! All you need to do to enter is leave a comment below stating what you would use the extract for (i.e. your favorite baked good, ice cream, aromatherapy...get creative if you want). I'll announce the winner next Tuesday (5/14) so you have until then to enter.