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I bake a lot.  I’ve baked most of my life—for family, for friends, for work, for therapy—I can always find a reason to mix sugar, butter, and flour together and throw it in the oven.   I think I started baking in the third grade—a time when my reading skills surpassed my abilities with math.

Me (aged 8):  “Mom, can I bake a chocolate cake?”

My unwary mother (from down the hall):  “Sure honey.”

I got out the box of cake mix and began reading the directions.  I pre-heated the oven, greased the pans, and set about creating my first-ever culinary masterpiece.  I’d watched my mom do it so many times,  I’m certain that failure never occured to me.  Little did I realize that, not yet having studied ‘fractions’ in math would ground my first solo flight in the kitchen.

As I recall, boxed cake mixes called for 1 and 1/2 cups of water.

 With all of my nascent skill (baking, reading, math—it doesn’t matter which one you pick—I was doomed) I began to mix my masterpiece; first the eggs, the oil, the cake mix, and then the water… all four cups of it.

My knowledge of fractions may have been marginal, but there was nothing wrong with my addition, no sirree!  And when you add those numbers together, they equal four!

I carefully put my cakes in the oven, and waited patiently for them to bake.  And waited, and waited…

Finally frustrated enough with my ‘half-baked’ attempt to call it quits, I explained to my mom what I had done, going back over each step.  I don’t remember her snickering as she taught me how to match up what I was reading with the proper size measuring cup (I never did master fractions beyond what was necessary to read a recipe with ), and then we gave the cake soup to the dog.  (Yes, I now know that wasn’t the best thing for the dog, but back then I didn’t, so please don’t go all “how-could-you-don’t-you-know-that’s-bad-for-dogs?!” on me.)

The point of this little story—and yes, there is one—is that when you bake a lot, you go through a lot of vanilla extract.  Lots and lots of vanilla extract! In the years that have followed my initial disastrous attempt at cake crafting, I have single handedly (and blissfully) baked my way through GALLONS of the stuff.  Plus, when you bake, sometimes those tasty treats are not complete without whipped cream—another thing that benefits from the addition of vanilla—as does ice-cream, hot chocolate, and so much more!

For reasons known only to the marketing divisions of spice companies, this amazing elixir that has the power to make everything taste better is only available in tiny bottles.  Tiny, expensive bottles!  It’s so costly that it can force an economy-minded baker—and that’s most everyone I know—to use…gasp!… imitation vanilla flavoring.

Please, if this is you, back away from that bottle of fake flavor.  I know it’s tempting—the bottle holds three times the amount and costs two thirds less than the real thing.  But it isn’t real vanilla, and the quality of your creations will suffer.  Really.  But, if you plan ahead a tiny bit, you can have the real thing for a fraction of the cost of store-bought, just by making it yourself.  Not only that, but home-made vanilla is a thoughtful and much appreciated Christmas, birthday, or host/hostess gift for anyone who cooks!  

The incredibly simple recipe that follows will yield six ounces of vanilla, but because I use so much, I adhere to the “Why do when you can over-do” principle here and make it by the quart. 

You can make this now for gift-giving, but make sure you note (on that darling little label that all of you crafty types will hand-letter), that it won’t be ready to use until mid-January. 

 016

¾ Cup of Vodka (nothing fancy—bottom-shelf will do for this purpose)
2 Vanilla beans

020A clean glass bottle that can be tightly sealed or capped

021Make a slit halfway through each bean, starting at the stem and stopping just short of the end.

024You want the bean open enough to expose all of those glossy, fragrant, tiny seeds, but not cut completely through the pod.

025Place the beans** in the glass bottle, and pour the vodka in.     Seal the bottle, and place in a cool, dark, place for four to six weeks. Shake the bottle a few times during this time, and when it’s a lovely dark brown, it’s ready to use.

Vanilla Extract

¾ Cup of Vodka (nothing fancy—bottom-shelf will do for this purpose)

2 Vanilla beans **

A clean glass bottle that can be tightly sealed or capped

1)    Make a slit halfway through each bean, starting at the stem and stopping just short of the end.
You want the bean open enough to expose all of those glossy, fragrant, tiny seeds, but not cut completely through the pod.

2)    Place the beans in the glass bottle, and pour the vodka in.  (I warm the vodka ever-so-slightly first, as I think it helps to extract more of the flavor. Just my opinion though…)
 

3)    Seal the bottle, and place in a cool, dark, place for four to six weeks. Shake the bottle a few times during this time, and when it’s a lovely dark brown, it’s ready to use.

029**The pictures show more than two vanilla beans because I doubled the batch.

That’s it…it’s just that easy!  I think you’ll notice the difference in the flavor too—more mellow, deeper, richer, and all for a cost that will keep you baking, and allow you to buy more chocolate!

Thanks so much for coming to visit me.  Now, what are you waiting for…go bake something!

Blessings of the season~Lorrie

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