How to Make Vanilla Extract

How such tiny specks contain so much flavor I shall never know!

Old book smell is amongst the favorite smells of all bibliophiles. When I came across this article in the Smithsonian, I was surprised to learn that old book smell is chemically similar to the smell of vanilla and cut grass, which I also love. Both evoke such homey memories.

A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.

While I can’t think of any way to incorporate the scent of cut grass into food, vanilla has a myriad of options. My favorite is a lovely vanilla rice pudding or cream. I love the combination of cream and vanilla. I stumbled across Simon Hopkinson‘s enchanting cookbook, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, in the discount pile at a bookstore. Instantly, I was hooked. He describes food so beautifully that it truly is as much a storybook as it is a cookbook.

I do believe, against all odds, that cream will be with us for a long time yet, despite its well-known high cholesterol content. After all, who in their heart of hearts would want to be without creme brulee, the best vanilla ice cream, or clotted cream on a scone with strawberry jam?

In an effort to make the most vanilla-y puddings, creams, cakes, and cookies, I make my own vanilla extract. It is incredibly easy to do. All you need are vanilla beans, vodka, and a bottle.

Vanilla Extract

1 c vodka
4 vanilla beans

Slice beans down their length and place in a glass bottle. Cover with 1 cup of vodka. Place bottle out of sunlight and agitate several times a week until the liquid becomes brown. This should take several weeks. However, then you have lots of yummy vanilla flavor! Keep adding vodka until flavor starts to pale. That will let you know it is time for fresh vanilla beans.


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