It is a brand new year and I figured I should start 2012 with a fresh start; right at the pastry beginning. For me that’s vanilla extract, probably the most used ingredient in my kitchen after flour and sugar. I always have a stack of beans and bottles of extract. I admit I don’t always make my own, but it is something, like homemade yogurt , that once you make it, you’re ruined to the store bought version. It is easy to make, but to get the best result you have to be patient. The longer you let the vanilla beans sit in the vodka, the better and stronger the flavor. I let this bottle sit for 5 weeks before opening it, which was a test of will power I didn’t know I possessed. The result is like perfume, I want to add it to all of my recipes and dab a bit behind my ears. I’ll use it in everything from cakes to cocktails.
This year I have only made one work related resolution…to make more how-to videos on my ZoeBakes YouTube Channel . If you have any ideas for cake decorating, baking, pastry or any other sweets you’d like to see in more detail, please let me know. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel to see all my new videos. Hope they are helpful.
Glass Bottle with stopper or cap  (the one I used had juice in it and I cleaned it and then sterilized it) – the size doesn’t matter, you can make a large or small amount.
Vodka – enough to cover the beans in the bottle you choose. You can also use rum or other neutral flavored alcohol.
Vanilla Beans  – The amount will depend on the size of the jar you make, but you want to use a bunch to get the best flavor. I used about 18 beans in 750ml of vodka. The beans can be expensive, so you can also keep the pods after you have scraped out the seeds for another recipe. This will take longer, because you aren’t adding the flavorful pulp, but it is a great way to use the pods. I add one to the bottle every time I have another pod. (Don’t use them if they have been used in a recipe already, like custard) – Here is more information on vanilla beans 
To make the vanilla extract:
Clean your bottle and dry it well.
If you are using the whole vanilla beans, scrape out the pulp of a bunch of beans.
Put the pod and scraped pulp into the bottle. (Scraping out the pulp first will help it flavor the alcohol quicker.)
Once you have all the beans scraped and added to the bottle…
Pour the vodka into the bottle. You can use a Funnel  to make sure you don’t spill. I didn’t have one that was small enough, so I used a large round pastry tip.
Close the stopper on the bottle and shake the vanilla and vodka to distribute the seeds.
The vodka will still be clear for the first few days. Once every couple of days give the extract a good shake to break up the pulp and get the seeds distributed in the vodka.
After a week the extract will start to get darker and develop some flavor. After two weeks you can use the extract, but the flavor will be very subtle.
At week 3 the color should be amber and the aroma is richer, but waiting for week 4 or 5 is when it gets really exciting. Use it in any recipe that calls for vanilla extract. If you are using it in buttercream, you may want to strain out any of the pulp. You will still have the seeds in your recipe, but any of the stringy bits from the pod will get strained out.
The extract can be kept indefinitely and over the months it just keeps getting better.
Happy New Year!