THE BLOG
05/16/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Very Vanilla, but Allergy-Free

It's Sunday. It's pouring "cats, dogs and buckets," according to my six year old. We're all bored out of our gourds.

So, you know what I do when I get bored? I hit the laboratory, also known as my kitchen. It was not until I started baking full-time that I realized just how much I really loved my first, but quickly abandoned college major. While studying molecules and memorizing the Periodic Table, I had little appreciation for where chemistry fit into my bigger picture. Lab reports cut into keggers and sorority pledging, so I dropped my Chemistry major like a hot baking sheet taken from the oven without an oven mitt. However, as I developed the recipes for Allergy-Free Desserts, I realized that I love: 1) the lab 2) the trial and error of experiments 3) writing lab reports (aka recipes) 4) lab slab counter tops and that 4) a Buntsen burner would be handy for roasting a marshmallow in a city apartment.

So today, I'm back to the kitchen. I was interviewed for a cooking blog a couple of weeks ago, and one of the questions was: "What are your favorite flavors"? I have lots of them, but after much consideration, I answered vanilla. I really do love vanilla. I use double-strength in my baking, and I went through a long phase of slitting vanilla beans and putting them in virtually everything from coconut milk ice cream to steeping them in cups of tea. I even used to use vanilla-scented shampoo, but I had to stop because it made me so hungry. So, when I put on my thinking cap this morning and thought up a project to quell my boredom, I settled on making homemade vanilla extract.

I was nervous about using anything but vodka for the alcohol in the extract, but a little research yielded a pleasant surprise--something in the distillation process makes distilled spirits gluten-free. So, then, what to use? I had some cheap vodka in the freezer from when I was on a big luster dusting kick, but I was hesitant to use vodka because I suspected it lacked flavor. One friend suggested Rum because it lends depth to the vanilla flavor, but then I found a bottle of Maker's Mark from my dad's last visit and decided to go with good Bourbon. Old reliable.

First I took three vanilla beans and slit them down the center with a very sharp knife, but left the ends intact. Then I placed them in a dark glass bottle left over from an old batch of store-bought vanilla extract. Before I got started, I washed the bottle very well by hand and then washed it again in the dishwasher (you could also sterilize the bottle, but I didn't). I covered the beans with Maker's Mark, about a cup, replaced the lid and shook it. The dark glass is essential, as it protects the extract from UV degradation.

And now, just a few minutes later, my fancy, schmancy vanilla extract sits on a dark shelf in my baking closet waiting until the day when, two months from now, it is finally ready to use. I love that I have something that is going to be potent and corn syrup free but that was really quick and easy to make. I satiated my need to experiment and put the kibosh on my boredom, and even though the cats, dogs and buckets are still falling from the sky, I'm hanging out, having put my inner mad scientist to rest.