About fifteen years ago some friends gave us some homemade vanilla for Christmas.  It was some of the best stuff we had ever had!  Ever since then we have been making our own vanilla.  Making your own vanilla is easy, inexpensive and just makes sense if you love to bake.

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This is what we used to buy, a little 2 oz. bottle that cost way too much and did not last us very long.  I phoned into our local grocery today as I had NO idea what this size bottle was running lately.  The house brand of vanilla extract is currently $5.29 for a 2 oz. bottle!  It was all I could do not to burst out laughing.  I would not be able to bake like I do if we had to pay $5.29  for vanilla every two batches of chocolate chip cookies I made.

The vanilla extract you buy in the grocery store does have alcohol in it, alchohol free vanilla is very hard to come by.  Most imitation vanilla extracts also have alcohol in them, so don’t be put off by the following recipe for homemade vanilla.  Trust me, this stuff is tasty.

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First grab a bottle of vodka from your local store.  We usually pick up whatever is on sale

This bottle of UV probably cost us between $7.99 -8.99.  We usually don’t spend anymore than that per bottle when making vanilla, or lavendar spray.  For a 1.75 liter bottle I use 3-4 vanilla beans.  There are all sorts of vanilla beans out thereTahitianMadagascarMexican.  We’ve been using Tahitian beans for years with great results.  The above links will take you to Amazon where they have 12 bean packs for $14.95-17.95.  You can also buy larger or smaller quantities from their site.

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Take your vanilla beans and slice them down the middle.

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This smells so incredibly good, I can not even describe the sweet smell of vanilla that will fill your kitchen if you try this.

Take the vanilla beans and put them into your bottle of vodka, give it a shake to loosen the insides of the beans.  Label your bottle so you know when it will be ready to use.  I allow the beans to soak for at least three months.  The longer the better, but three months is good.  I store our bottles of vanilla in a cool dark place and give them another shake every once in awhile.

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You can see in this photo how dark the vodka gets after the beans have been sitting awhile.  I believe this bottle is four months old.  All of the little black flecks you see in the bottle are from the vanilla bean.  If you don’t care for these just run your vanilla through a fine sieve.  We always leave ours grains of vanilla in the bottle.

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Last Christmas I made a bottle of rum vanilla.

I prepared it the same way as with the vodka and have used some a couple of times in cookies and ice cream.  It has a much stronger flavor (as to be expected) and is a really tasty change in recipes where you would like a little more flavor.

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Here is the finished rum vanilla, super yummy!

So, lets do a final cost break down.

Bottle of vodka (approximately 25 oz.) -$8.99

Vanilla beans- package of 12 for $17.99 divided by three- $6

Total cost for a 25 oz. bottle of vanilla- $14.99 or  $1.20 for two ounces.

To store your leftover vanilla beans there are a couple of things you can do to keep them fresh.  One way is to vacuum seal them into bags or jars.  The other way is to put them into freezer bags, squeeze all of the air out of them and then stick them into the freezer until you need them.

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The price difference is incredible and you know what is going into your vanilla.   Three months is quite awhile to wait, so get busy, make your own vanilla.  I promise you’ll like it.   If you don’t you can just mail your bottle to me ;-)

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Potato Bread

My brain is strange, I know this is not news for most of you :)   Oddball things pop into it at weird times.  The other day I was remembering my grandma talking about her mom’s potato bread.  When she and my great grandmother shared a house, my grandma would come home from work and would smell fresh baked potato bread.  She said the potato bread was so delicious that she had to tell my great grandmother to stop making it as she (my grandma) was gaining too much weight from consuming the yummy bread.  I decided I wanted to make this bread and contacted a great aunt through Facebook.  A cousin of mine, who is also on Facebook, let me know that she had seen the recipe and would get it to me as soon as she found it.

The next day the recipe was waiting in my message box, hooray!  The day after that I was boiling potatoes and waiting for dough to rise.

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Here’s the recipe with a few minor changes by me:

Great Grandma’s Potato Bread

1 pound thick-skinned potatoes (3-4 med. sized potatoes)
1-1/2 cups milk
1/3 cup butter or margarine
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages active dry yeast
½ cup warm water – about 110 degrees
2 eggs
about 8 cups flour, unsifted

Cook potatoes in boiling water until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain, peel, and mash with a potato masher or press through a potato ricer. There should be 2 cups mashed potatoes.

Place potatoes in a pan and gradually stir in milk. Add butter, sugar, and salt. Heat to warm (110 degrees); set aside.

In a large bowl, mix yeast with water; let stand for 5 minutes. Beat in potato mixture, eggs, and 3 cups of the flour. Gradually mix in 3-1/2 cups more flour. Turn out on a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding remaining flour as needed.

Place dough in a greased bowl; turn dough over so the top is greased. Cover and let rise in a warm place til doubled, 45min.-1 hours.

Punch dough down, then divide in to thirds. Shape each third into a smooth loaf and place in a greased 5X9 inch loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place til almost doubled, 30 minutes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, or til loaves are browned and sound hollow when tapped; turn out of pans and cool on racks.

Note:  This dough rises FAST, due to the dough being warm at the beginning, so keep an eye on it.  The recipe said it made two loaves originally, it makes way more than that.  Don’t believe me?  Check this out!

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Yep, that was my first run through with the bread dough.  BIG, HUGE loaves of bread.

I really liked the the way the bread turned out nice and light loaves of bread.  I decided to try the dough by making cinnamon rolls.  Make the dough as above, but after the first rise divide it in half.  Roll out half to 16×18″ on a floured surface.  Spread with 1/3 cup of very soft butter (you don’t want the dough to tear) and sprinkle with 1 Tblsp. of cinnamon and 1/2- 2/3 sugar.  Roll up starting with the longest edge, seal edge by pinching dough together.  Slice in to 10 equal slices and place in a greased 15×10 pan.  Repeat with the remaining dough and place in the same pan.  Let rise 30 minutes and then bake at 375 for 25-30 min.

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Mix 8oz. softened, cream cheese, 1/2 cup of softened, butter, 1 tsp. vanilla, 4 cups of powdered sugar and 1 Tblsp. of milk until smooth.  Add more milk if too thick to spread.  Spread over hot rolls and enjoy!

I made a batch up for my family and then made up a second batch for my dad to take to session.  They’re fairly quick due to the quick rise time of the bread, and yummy!

I wanted to make the dough up one more time as loaves before posting the recipe, just to make sure everything worked smoothly.  This time I made two loaves of bread and used the last third for rolls.  I was able to get a dozen nice sized rolls out of the last third of dough.

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The first two loaves of bread both had a large air hole near the surface.  I have looked over some bread troubleshooting pages and none of the things they have listed are a problem.  I have not sliced in to these last two loaves yet so maybe it was just a case of the first batch over rising?  It seriously rises fast, so keep an eye on it.  I’m anxious to see what the these last two loaves look like inside.  If I discover the problem I will post an update here.

So there you go!  Enjoy!  This stuff is yummy and oh so bad for you.  Consider yourself forewarned.