Last year Grandma Virginia taught me the secrets to vanilla extract and I brewed enough to (about 30 four ounce bottles) to give away as gifts.
ingredients and supplies:
Glass jar (preferably a dark jar)
Vodka. Buy the cheapest vodka you can find. What I've learned is that expensive vodka's add favoring to make theirs stand apart from the rest. We don't want that, we want the cheap stuff that doesn't have a taste.
Pour the vodka into your glass jar. Here I am using a 1/2 gallon canning jar which holds 8 cups of liquid.
Vanilla bean. I have been experimenting with the beans. Last year I bought whole beans from Beanilla for about $1.00/ bean (shipping factored in). Beans are expensive because they have to be hand pollinated. I've also bought some at the local Penzey's store (~$8.00 for 3 beans). This time I found a different website Amadeus Trading Company that sells dried vanilla beans. Since the beans are dry I got more beans then when buying them whole. Either type will work, any seller will work. Do your research for the best possible price for the amount of beans you want. I will tell you how to make your vanilla for which ever type of bean you purchase.
Here's some of dried beans I bought.
You will need 4 beans per cup of vodka. For my 1/2 gallon mason jar I used 32 beans.
Dried Beans. Use a coffee grinder and grind the beans.
Regular beans. Split beans length wise or use whole.
Pour ground beans into vodka.
If leaving beans whole or split just put them into the vodka.
The ground beans will turn the vodka dark immediately. Whole or split beans will slowly turn the vodka dark. I have found that the whole or split beans do not reach the dark color that the ground beans do. This does not mean it is any less of a vanilla extract, the fullness of the flavor is still there.
Finally, you want to date your jar, especially if you have more than one brewing at a time.
steep vanilla in a cool dry location for at least 6 weeks, shaking it up every few days.
The longer it steeps the better it will be!
To strain the vanilla use a cheesecloth or a french press before bottling. If you are making the vanilla for yourself you can use the vanilla straight from the mason jar.
Remember vanilla can be used for more than just cookies. I put mine in pancakes and waffles too even though recipes never call for it.
The whole/split vanilla beans can be reused (BONUS! when they are so expensive!). You can also add more vodka as you use your vanilla up. Just give it some more time to steep. I haven't had my ground beans long enough to know if I will be able to reuse those.
***USE more vanilla than the recipe calls for. I don't measure anymore. I just dump it in. I would guess I use at least 2x's as much as recommended. Vanilla has such a mild taste that you aren't going to give your food an overwhelming taste like you could for example with garlic.
Here's an overview
1 cup vodka
steep beans in vodka for at least 6 weeks.