Of all the things we've suggested you make from scratch, homemade vanilla extract is maybe the easiest. (Croissants are definitely the hardest.) And, it might be the most rewarding, too. You're going to wonder why in the world you haven't been making your own extract -- why you don't have vanilla beans sitting in a jar with vodka extracting the vanilla flavors from the pod right now. We don't know why. But we do know you can and should change that right now.
There are two main reasons people love making their own vanilla extract. One, it makes awesomely delicious extract. Better than any you've have ever tasted. Two, some folks believe it's a better deal. Real vanilla extract is expensive. Buying a couple of beans and some vodka can be cheaper. Plus, you'll have SO MUCH of this good stuff on hand you'll even be able to give some out as gifts. And people will love you for it.
To make your own extract, you need 1-5 bean pods per cup of vodka -- opinions vary greatly on this -- and a sealable jar to hold it all in. Split the pods open and add them to the jar with vodka. Make sure the pods are completely submerged (you might have to cut them in half so that the pods fit). Seal, store in a cool, dark place and forget about it for a couple of months -- except every week or two, to give the jar a good shake. Once the vodka has turned a beautiful dark amber color, it's ready for baking. (For a more detailed step-by-step recipe, go to Averie Cook's site over here and she'll walk you through it.)
If buying fresh vanilla beans only to immediately submerge them in a jar of booze makes you feel upset, there is another option -- a more frugal and equally delicious choice. The Traveler's Lunchbox cleans out the pod to use the tiny vanilla beans for baking -- like in one of these delicious recipes -- and then throws the leftover pod into a jar of booze. She adds new pods to the jar as she uses them in a very laid-back fashion. She does not have an exact recipe to offer, but you should check out her site to read her whole process.
Whichever option you choose, make homemade extract. And then bake with it in the recipes below.