How to Make Vanilla Extract
This homemade vanilla extract is made from just two ingredients (vanilla beans and vodka) and takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. Let it sit for at least one month (longer is better!) and it’ll be ready to use for baking or to give as a gift. Below are tons of tips to ensure your vanilla extract is the best of the best!
If you’ve ever baked cookies, a cake, cupcakes, brownies, pudding… almost anything!… then you’ve undoubtedly noticed that vanilla extract shows up in just about every baking recipe there is, and for good reason!
Vanilla extract enhances all of the other flavors in a recipe, just as adding salt to a savory dish does the same. Without the vanilla extract, baked goods like cookies, cakes, cupcakes, etc. have a tendency to taste rather bland and flat. You’d never leave the salt out of your dinner recipe, so you can’t forget the vanilla in your desserts, either!
The great news is that vanilla extract is incredibly easy to make at home and the smell of fresh vanilla extract is positively intoxicating!
Why make your own vanilla?
A couple of reasons!
First, it’s wonderfully cost-effective; it’s so much less expensive than buying bottle after bottle.
Secondly, you can do so much customizing. For instance, you can buy Madagascar vanilla beans, Tahitian vanilla beans, Mexican vanilla beans, Indian, Indonesian, and more – there are so many varieties! Then, mix and match them with your favorite liquor… vodka is standard, but use your favorite bourbon or rum to give the vanilla a totally different twist.
Vanilla beans are broken down into Grade A and Grade B vanilla beans. When making vanilla extract, you want to reach for Grade B vanilla beans. Here’s the difference:
- Grade A Vanilla Beans – These beans are plump, full of moisture, and the vanilla flavor infuses much more readily into things like pudding, creme brulee, ice cream, etc. They are significantly more expensive than Grade B vanilla beans.
- Grade B Vanilla Beans – These are actually nicknamed “extract beans” because they are perfect for making vanilla extract. They do not have as much moisture, so the beans will appear to be drier on the outside, with more cracks and imperfections. Because of this, it takes longer for the vanilla flavor to infuse, but the flavor is concentrated (not diluted by moisture), and the beans are much less expensive!
These are the vanilla beans I recommend for making extract.
This is the second piece of the vanilla extract equation and you can definitely play around with different varieties, as long as the alcohol is 80 proof. Vodka is the de facto go-to when it comes to homemade vanilla since the flavor is so neutral, but here are some other options:
There are many flavored vodkas available now, and while I love a pure vanilla flavor, you can certainly play around with these if you’d like.
It is not necessary to use expensive alcohol to make your vanilla extract; save your money for the good vanilla beans! :)
You can use any glass container you’d like! I love these swing-top bottles for easy pouring (plus they’re so pretty!), but you can use a mason jar, smaller bottles, larger bottles, anything. you’d like.
A funnel comes in handy to make pouring the alcohol into the bottle easier.
Which leads me to – you can scale this recipe up to infinity! If you want to make a huge batch for gifting or just to keep in your pantry, just up the vanilla beans and alcohol accordingly.
Tips for storing and gifting
- Steeping – Let the extract steep for at least 1 month before using, but longer is better! If you can let it go for 6 or 12 months, the flavor will be amazing.
- Gifting – If you are gifting the extract, remove the vanilla beans first.
- Refreshing/Replenishing – If you are using at home, top off with alcohol as you use it to keep the beans submerged. After 1 year of using/topping off, remove the vanilla beans, and replace them with fresh beans.
Some of my favorite vanilla-flavored desserts
- Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
- Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting
- The Best Creme Brule
If you make this vanilla extract and love it, I would so appreciate it if you would take a moment to leave a rating below. Thank you so much! ❤️️
How to Make Vanilla Extract
- 1 ounce (8) vanilla beans (about 7 beans), slit lengthwise, (do not cut the whole way through)
- 1 cup (240 ml) vodka
- Place the vanilla beans into an 8-ounce jar, cutting the beans if necessary so that they fit.
- Pour the vodka over the beans, ensuring that the beans are fully submerged, seal the jar and give it a few shakes.
- Place the jar in a cool, dark spot for at least 1 month, giving the bottle a shake once or twice a week.
- Alcohol - Bourbon or rum may be substituted for the vodka.
- Steeping - Let the extract steep for at least 1 month before using, but longer is better! If you can let it go for 6 or 12 months, the flavor will be amazing.
- Gifting - If you are gifting the extract, remove the vanilla beans first.
- Refreshing/Replenishing - If you are using at home, top off with alcohol as you use it to keep the beans submerged. After 1 year of using/topping off, remove the vanilla beans, and replace them with fresh beans.
[Photography by Ari of Well Seasoned]