I have a silent competition going on in my office – I want to be the best baker. I want to be the one that brings in a treat and watches my co-workers rush to the table because of my stellar reputation as the workplace baker. Every office has one. The minute word spreads that Jane brought in her famous blueberry pound cake, you rush to the kitchen hopeful that the office Gods have spared you a piece.
The reality is, I’m not always that girl. There are a few of us who try to edge each other out with a secret sugar cookie recipe, or a homemade cake served up on a vintage cake platter. But I have my place in the competition, so I have always regarded bringing baked goods to work as my territory.
Then one day, everything changed. I had just arrived to work and was loaded down with my usual computer bag, lunch bag, bag of work papers that had accumulated in my car for a month, and a coffee. I rounded the corner, and was greeted by a gorgeous pink cake sitting on the kitchen table. As my bags dropped to the ground, I knew right away that this cake was a game-changer. It was beautiful – none of us in this office could decorate like that. Surely it wouldn’t taste as good as it looked! After all, that’s my theory – the prettier the cake, the worse it tastes.
Without bothering to put my things away, I started scouring the office to see who the mystery cake maker was. Down the row of offices I traveled, gathering more followers as I went along. Everyone was eager to find out who this cake belonged to, and more importantly, when we could eat it. Then I found her – it was the new girl I had just hired into my department. Gasp! I have just hired my own replacement!
We surrounded the table, passed out slices and began to eat. Two bites in, a commotion arose from the back hall. We walked back to find Dee Dee half out of her chair, hollering that this cake was so good she might cry. I stood in utter disbelief. This girl is only one week in and has Dee Dee on the floor hollering in ecstasy over cake! Here’s the thing about Dee Dee – you want to be on her good side because if Dee Dee’s not happy, ain’t no one happy. And not much makes Dee Dee happy. Except this cake apparently. One week and the new girl has not only thwarted me from my reign as Cake Queen, but she has won over Dee Dee – something I’ve been trying to do for 8 years!
THIS CAKE WAS AMAZING. I bowed down to her and begged for the recipe, asking her what in the world made it so good. Her answer? Homemade vanilla extract. She was convinced that the homemade extract elevated the flavor and was better than any vanilla you could buy at the store.
Ever since that day, I’ve been eager to make my own vanilla.
While pie is usually judged by it’s crust, I’m just as picky about what goes into that crust. From taste to texture – it has to be outstanding. I mean, why spend all that careful time making a great crust and then dump a can of shiny, gooey pie filling into it? I get so angry when I’m duped. Like at the County Fair when the guy swore that the banana cream pie was an old family recipe and after one bite I could tell it was banana pudding with imitation banana flavoring. Yuck.
I’m the most obsessive about vanilla. I love, love, love vanilla and, yes, I pay $10 for that tiny bottle. I feel like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding who thinks he can cure everything with Windex. I’m constantly having to reign in my tendency to add vanilla to everything. It is high time I attempt some homemade vanilla – if not only to ramp up the taste of my sweets, but to save some money!
Homemade Vanilla Extract
For holiday gifts this year, I decided to make homemade vanilla extract and vanilla sugar for everyone. What a great gift it turned out to be – so easy to make and a little goes a long way. I had gifts for everyone! If you want the gift to be ready to use, you’ll need to start two months ahead of time. However, because planning is not my forte, I just attached gift tags that had the date it would be ready.
Because I was making a lot of extract, I found a reputable vendor to purchase beans for a good price. Vanilla Products USA sells a pound of Madagascar beans for $27! AND, when the package arrived, they had thrown in an extra 1/8 of a pound. It was vanilla heaven!
Vodka (decent vodka)
Madagascar vanilla beans
You will need 2 vanilla beans per 8 ounces of vodka.
Split the vanilla beans and place into container of your choice. Mason jars, or any glass bottle with a good lid or seal. I used 4 ounce bottles from a local craft store. You could also put the beans right into the vodka bottle.
Pour vodka into the container and seal tightly.
Store in a cool, dark place for two-three months shaking once a week to distribute the vanilla. Word has it, the longer it sits the better it will be (up to six months if you are really serious).
The beans will continue to make extract for up to a year. When your vanilla is about 75% gone, top it off with more vodka, wait a month and then you have more!
Homemade Vanilla Sugar
1 vanilla bean
2 cups of sugar
Split the vanilla bean and scrape vanilla into the sugar. Bury the vanilla bean in the sugar, cover and let sit for one week. Use to flavor coffee, tea, oatmeal or to bake with!