Claire Ptak’s secret ingredient: vanilla vodka

Vanilla is so expensive, but putting it in vodka is a great way to get the most from the bean. I always have a big batch on the go – and it looks cool in your kitchen too. Buy an inexpensive bottle of vodka, but not something terrible, and you want something really plain. Start out with three fresh vanilla beans, split them open and leave them in the vodka for about three days. Then start adding any scraped-out leftover pods. You can even use one to flavour custard, rinse it, dry it out and put it back into the vodka – it will still give a ton of flavour. If you don’t use vanilla pods a lot, you might want to start out with a few more.

I use it for everything I would use vanilla extract for. It’s super flavourful and adds this boozy finish. I tend to be really generous with it. I use a couple of tablespoons so it doesn’t affect the composition of the recipe, it just enhances the flavour. If you put it into something really sweet such as buttercream – , which is basically sugar, butter and milk or cream, or ice-cream, it counteracts the sweetness and tastes more of vanilla. I use it in sponges, icing, custard, my chocolate chip cookies, everything really.