Vanilla extract is a ubiquitous ingredient in cakes - it's an ingredient in virtually everyone's kitchen. Why not make your own? It is really, really easy to do and you can customise it too.
The extract takes about 8 weeks to make - no heating or factory processing needed here. The first thing you need to get is some attractive bottles so that you have something on your shelf or to give away that look good. I used 250ml push-cap bottles which are available from your local cook shop (I got mine from Wendy's Cookshop in Honiton) as they are just the right height for a vanilla pod.
You need two ingredients:
Naturally, the better the vanilla, the better the essence, so we use our vanilla pods grown by subsistence farmers in the Totonac region of Mexico - which is where vanilla originally came from before being grown on an industrial scale in other parts of the world.
Next, you need some alcohol which dissolves the vanillin from the pods which is the active compound that gives vanilla its flavour. IT should be something strong, around 40%, I've used vodka which gives little or no flavour to the extract and also rum which, when mixed with vanilla, gives a heady aroma which I find hard to stop sniffing.
Easy. Take about 4 vanilla pods - more if you want a stronger flavour - and slice them along the length to allow the alcohol to penetrate and get the flavour out. Put the pods into the bottle and fill with your choice of alcohol. Close the cap, and that is it. The rest is a waiting game: the bottles will darken over the next few weeks so that in about 8 weeks, they will have taken on a much darker colour.
Treat yourself to a hot chocolate with a slosh of rum-based vanilla extract for a fabulous winter-warmer.