I’ve said before that I don’t bake that often, but that’s no longer the case. Now I’ve consistently got a batch of muffins in the freezer, which I defrost on an as-needed basis, and there’s almost always cookies on the counter. So basically, what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been going through vanilla extract like it’s my job.
Until recently I’d been using Nielsen-Massey vanillas, which are quite nice, but after using up two bottles in a ridiculously short period of time I decided that I should instead make my own extract. It’s surprisingly easy, so much so that I’ve been kind of kicking myself for not doing it sooner. Seriously, it seems utterly ridiculous to write a “recipe” for it, but here goes:
Homemade Vanilla Extract
The quantity you end up with depends upon what size container you use, and how much liquor you can pour into it.
3 to 4 vanilla beans
rum or vodka (again, the amount you’ll need depends on your container, but I think about 3 beans to about 1 cup is a good ratio.)
- Before you begin, you’ll need a glass container with a tight cap. I recycled one of my Nielsen-Massey bottles, but anything with a good seal on it will do as long as it’s clean and sterilized. To sterilize, submerge your container in a pot of boiling hot water and it let sit in its bath for about ten minutes. (This is why you want a glass bottle.)
- While your bottle is sterilizing, get your beans ready. With a sharp thin knife, slit the beans open lengthwise so that the fine-grained little black specks within peek out. This is all you have to do to prepare the vanilla for extract, so you can use the remaining sterilization time having a dance party in the kitchen. I recommend pretty much any track off The Cardigans‘ album Life, or T.Rex’s Essential Collection, if you prefer something less poppy and more glam.
- When your bottle is nice and sterilized, slide your beans inside and top off with alcohol.* Seal the bottle tightly and give it a good couple of shakes — you can dance with it for a track or two if you like, but it’s not necessary — then store it in a cool, dark place like a kitchen cabinet, perhaps where you keep your drinking glasses, so that your vanilla has some company.
- For the next two months, visit your bottle about twice a week and give it a some more shakes, and maybe a twirl or two around the kitchen. You can get going on your baking after the two months have passed. Since you can keep your brand-new vanilla extract indefinitely in its cool, dark cabinet, you can top off the rum or vodka whenever you think it’s running low, as well as slip another slit bean into the mix if you’ve ever got one handy. Just make sure to give the bottle a shake after you add anything to it, whether it’s alcohol or a bean.
I know there are just about as many chocolate chip cookie recipes out there as there are chocolate chip cookie eaters, but I really think that it’s in your best interest to follow Mr. Peterson’s instructions at least once. The results are crunchy and buttery and full of sweet flavor. He calls for walnuts in his ingredients, but I prefer finely sliced almonds. It’s up to you as to what nut you use. I only care that you give these a shot — after you’ve made some vanilla extract, of course.
(Almond) Chocolate Chip Cookies, from
Makes about sixteen cookies **
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped, or chocolate chips
1 cup flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup butter, cut in slices
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup sliced or slivered almonds
- Unless you are using silicone baking liners or nonstick sheet pans, brush two pans with room-temperature butter. In a bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and salt.
- If you plan on mixing the ingredients by hand or with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugars until fluffy. Then mix in the egg yolk and vanilla, then add the flour mixture all at once. Stir or mix on low to medium speed until there’s no loose flour visible. Stir in the nuts and chocolate.
- If you plan on using a food processor, process all the ingredients except the nuts and chocolate for about 20 seconds, or until they clump together and you see no loose flour. If there’s stubborn loose flour clinging to the bottom of the bowl, scrape it up with a silicone spatula and process for 5 seconds more. Transfer the dough to a bowl and nix in the nuts and chocolate with a wooden spoon.
- Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 375°.
- For the first cookie, measure out 2 tablespoons of dough — you can use a 2-tablespoon ice cream scoop — and roll it into a ball. Set the ball on the sheet pan and press it into a 2 ¾-inch disk with the bottom of a glass. If the glass sticks to the dough, dip it in cold water in between pressing the cookies down. Continue shaping the rest of the cookies.
- Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the edges brown slightly. Let cool until set and then transfer to cooling racks, or let cool in the pans set on racks. Store tightly sealed in an airtight container for up to 1 week.