the only way to make vanilla extract

Once upon a time, I promised you more info on how to make your own vanilla extract.  And so it shall be.

There are a billion different posts on Pinterest and the like about making your own vanilla extract.  And I'm here to tell you that they are straight up bullshit.  Not because it's hard to do--it isn't.  Or because the ingredients are super expensive--they aren't. Or because the end result is not as good as commercial extracts--it's WAY BETTER.

They're all essentially the same concept: pour vodka or a neutral spirit (grain) over a split vanilla bean. The problem is that they claim you can make decent extract with one piddly little vanilla bean.  You can't. One vanilla bean in a little bottle of booze does jack all.  (I lie: it makes a meh vanilla vodka. Throw in three, and you have a much better vanilla vodka.)

And here, dear reader is the true secret: what you need are a half pound of vanilla beans and a big ass jar. 

actually, this is in dire need of some topping off. 

Yes, vanilla beans are expensive. When you buy them at Williams-Sonoma or specialty cooking stores and buy the itty bitty canister of two premium beans. But I get mine from Ebay.  Because honestly, I'm making vanilla extract, and I'm not putting the beans on display.  I don't need pretty, fat grade A beans that come at a premium price.  I just need good flavor and bulk.  You can get a half pound of beans from Ebay sellers for about $30.  

Get yer beans, a big ass jar (I got one of the biggest ones with a locking bail at the container store--similar to this one [affiliate link], but any wide mouth, glass, airtight jar will work), and a bottle or two of cheap (but not trashy burny hurty) vodka.  

Take your sharp paring knife, split each bean in half, the long way, and pack in the jar.  You don't need to bother scraping out the seeds.  Top with the vodka, and seal.  Keep in a cool dark place for at least two weeks (longer is better) before decanting the liquid into smaller containers. 

I originally made my jar to make Christmas gifts in 2008.  I decanted a bunch of extract into smaller bottles, including one split bean for decoration, and then just left the big jar in the pantry.  I refilled my own bottle (and my mom's) from the stash, and when the liquid level gets low in the big jar, I just top it off with more vodka and let it chill. I have not replaced the beans, and as they're covered with booze they are just fine.  

Every so often, I steal a bean from the big jar, let it dry out, and bury it in a canister of regular old sugar. Give it a shake, and after a week or so, voila: vanilla sugar. Which is KILLER in baked goods. And coffee. And also makes a fantastic gift in a mason jar. When the sugar level gets low, just top it off.  When the vanilla starts to fade, steal another bean from your jar of extract and repeat.