homemade vanilla
Kitchen Tips Spices

How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

Is your store out of vanilla extract, are you looking for a more affordable option, or are you just looking to try your hand at crafting your own vanilla extract? It’s easier than you think, and can make a great gift for family and friends! Get started now and have a batch ready for your fall baking, or Christmas gifts!

homemade vanilla

I love all the baking that’s going on right now. Seriously, my neighborhood smells delicious and people are sharing beautiful creations all over my social media and it’s been a blessedly long time since I’ve heard anybody lecture anybody about carbs. However…

There’s a shortage of a critical element of baking going on, and that’s vanilla extract.

You know, that delicious smelling and foul tasting stuff {please tell me I’m not the only one who ever tried to see if it tasted as good as it smelled} that you throw a teaspoon or two of into all your baked goods? It takes good pancake and bread recipes and makes them light and lacy and fragrant, and it becomes the star of vanilla cake and other delicious desserts.

But unless you’re not doing a lot of baking or unless, like us, you usually buy the large batch bottle at Costco, it’s expensive! Especially when you consider that it just takes two ingredients and a little bit of patience to make your own at home.

Those two ingredients are alcohol and vanilla beans. No, seriously. That’s it.

This is how I started mine.

homemade vanilla extract

The Alcohol

You can make homemade vanilla from just about any alcohol that’s 80 proof. Most recipes and most store-bought vanilla will use vodka, because it has a neutral flavor. Other popular options include bourbon, brandy, or rum, which all add a little bit of caramel flavor, sweetness, and spiciness depending on what brand you choose.

You also don’t have to use the good stuff here. You can get a perfectly good bottle of vanilla from a perfectly cheap bottle of booze. The majority of the flavor comes from the vanilla beans. I will say that if you don’t like something about the taste of the drink, you might not like your vanilla, so stick with something you’ll at least mix in a drink.

Every other time I’ve made homemade vanilla, I’ve used Vodka. This time, I chose to make my two batches with Bourbon, which adds a smoky caramel flavor and smell to the vanilla, and brandy, which adds some subtle sweet nuances to the vanilla. And truth be told, I only figured this out while Googling which of the bottles in our liquor cabinet would turn out good vanilla if I sacrificed them for my experiment. I didn’t have vodka and I wasn’t going to the store just for this.

The Beans

For the beans, I hopped on Amazon and searched Whole Foods for Grade B Madagascar vanilla beans. Grade B is usually the grade you want for an extract and gives you the best flavor. Grade A is more expensive and while it works, Grade A beans are meant for cooking. Unless you can find them at a steal, get the more inexpensive Grade B beans!

All you have to do when you get them is split them open lengthwise with a sharp knife and drop them in the bottle you’re going to use to infuse the alcohol with vanilla. If you’re using small bottles and the full bean doesn’t fit, cut them into smaller pieces.

homemade vanilla extract

The Bottles

I posted a picture of my vanilla experiment on my Facebook account and immediately a dozen people wanted to know where I got my bottles. I’m pretty sure I picked them up at Target ages ago, but if you’re looking for something similar, these are almost exactly the same.

But honestly, you don’t need anything fancy unless you’re planning on giving the vanilla as a gift, or unless, like me, you just want the fun of putting it in a fancy bottle. All you need is something with a sealable top that you can shake, so you can put them in dressing jars like mine, in little gift jars, in Mason jars, or you can just stuff a whole bunch of beans into a bottle of alcohol and make yourself a full 25 ounces or so of vanilla.

My rule of thumb is 3-5 beans for 1 cup or about 8 ounces of alcohol, so I used four beans in each of my 8 ounce jars. You can use more for a stronger vanilla flavor if that’s what you’re going for. I’ll tell you though, the real stuff packs more of a punch than the storebought, so don’t go bananas with the vanilla beans right off the bat until you know what you like.

Let’s Make Vanilla

Okay, you’ve got your beans, your booze, and your jar. Combine all and keep them stored in a dark place like a cupboard for a bare minimum of 6 weeks. You’re really supposed to wait about 6 months for the flavor to mature, and the longer it matures, the better it is. The bonus here is that homemade vanilla doesn’t really have a way to go bad, so you can keep it forever.

So, all you do is mix it and leave it somewhere and let it mature, right? Almost. You need to take it out and give it a good vigorous shake every couple days to make sure everything’s infusing.

The mix gets dark within the first few days, and the smell becomes wonderful! Go ahead and take a sniff. You’ll thank me.

Just look at those beauties.

homemade vanilla

So these two are at the bare minimum of maturity where you can use them. They smell amazing when you pop the stopper and their color is starting to get nice and dark, but even though you can use them in cooking, they’re not where you want them to be.

However, these bottles will be nice and mature and ready for my Christmas baking! I’ll post a follow up picture then so you can see what they look like after six months of infusing!

I’m starting another couple of bottles now for Christmas gifts – this season, I’ll be gifting our local friends with a plate of cookies {the maple shortbread cookies are my most requested, so it will probably be those, my gingerbread, and a couple other holiday favorites} and a little bottle of homemade vanilla extract.

Seriously, did I just start talking about Christmas already?

homemade vanilla

Stay safe this weekend, and don’t forget to shake up your vanilla!

Are you guys making your own vanilla extract? Tag @homefrontcooking or use #homefrontrecipes on Instagram so we can follow your progress!

About the ChefKristin

Career Army officer with a tendency toward workaholism. On the side, self taught cook, carpenter, and gardener, working to build a beautiful life for my family. Trying to tilt my balance in the right direction.

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