I was at the store the other day and saw some vanilla beans. I wondered what to do with them if I purchased them. Now I know.
To make homemade vanilla, you'll need:
750 milliliter bottle of vodka
12 whole vanilla beans (more if you want)
dark rum (optional)
Using kitchen scissors, cut vanilla beans in half lengthwise, leaving about an inch connected at one end. Pour out about a cup of the vodka before you add the beans to the bottle because the beans will displace some of the liquid. Now simply push the beans into the bottle. Add about 1/4 cup of dark rum, if using, then add back as much vodka as will fit.
Screw the lid on the bottle tightly and store in a cool, dry location. Shake the bottle once or twice a day at first, then just whenever you think about it. It will take a month or two to steep, but you can use it sooner if you need to. Stored properly, it will be good for years, and in fact, get better as it continues to steep.
Use a small funnel to transfer the steeped vanilla to smaller bottles or use straight out of the big bottle. Tie raffia or ribbons around small bottles to give as holiday gifts. Add a homemade or home-printed label. Or, if an avid baker is on your list, give them a whole big bottle, and be sure to make one for yourself.
You can also poke a split vanilla bean into a jar of sugar to make vanilla sugar, which makes a nice treat for your coffee. Give jars of vanilla sugar as gifts! Real vanilla beans are great to keep on hand for all sorts of baking uses. Nothing tastes like real vanilla.