I would be remiss if, during a kitchen basics-themed month here at FLMH, I didn't write a post on extracts. Extracts have to be the easiest, least labor intensive thing that will ever come out of your kitchen. Most of us don't think twice when we pay six bucks for a couple ounces of vanilla extract, but in reality, extracts are some of the most expensive items by volume that most of us have in our pantries. When compared with how simple and inexpensive they are to make at home, the expense of the store-bought extracts seems needless. I know the thought on many of your minds is "but what if I want vanilla extract? Aren't vanilla beans expensive?" Well, yes, if you're buying them at the grocery store and paying sixteen dollars for two scrawny beans. There are, however, plenty of places online where you can order beans in bulk for a much more reasonable price (I use saffron.com). I can get a half pound of good-quality beans here for fifteen or sixteen dollars, the same price I'd pay for two or three beans at my local grocery store. That's usually about forty five beans, folks. Do the math.
The general ratio for a single-strength vanilla extract is three beans to every cup of liquor, but you can double the amount of beans for a stronger extract. Most recipes I've seen on the blogosphere call for vodka, but I prefer to use rum for vanilla extract because I like that warm kiss that rum lends toward baked goods, and I find that rum compliments the vanilla flavor more effectively than vodka does.
3 vanilla beans, split 1 cup liquor (I prefer rum, but vodka is more popular)
Place beans and liquor in a glass jar and seal. Before use, store for at least 6 weeks in a cool, dark place, gently shaking every few days.
Want to make peppermint extract? Fill a jar with clean peppermint leaves that you've slightly bruised with your hands and top off with vodka. How about a citrus extract? Fill a jar with orange or lemon zest (or a combination of both), being careful to not include the pith, and top with vodka. Anise? Drop some star anise into a jar and, well, you get the picture. No matter what kind of extract you make, let it sit in a cool, dark place for at least six weeks (preferably two months) and give the jar a little shake every few days, and voila! You've got yourself a great homemade extract.