Homemade Vanilla Extract makes a wonderful gift, whether it's the holidays or you're looking for a nice food-related housewarming or hostess gift. The other great thing: it comes together in just a few easy steps! And once you bake with homemade vanilla extract, you will have a hard time going back to store-bought... it's that good (and easy)!
If you're giving Homemade Vanilla Extract as a gift, choose a nice bottle, tie with some ribbon, and add a note as to when it'll be ready to consume. Vanilla extract needs to sit for at least 8 weeks (and more is better). But it doesn't need to be ready when you give it, so you have some time!
Why you'll love this recipe
- Homemade vanilla extract comes together in just a few minutes and is a great gift to give!
- Most of the time for this recipe is letting the vanilla rest and letting the flavors infuse into the vodka. And the flavor just gets better the longer you let it sit!
- Once you've started a homemade vanilla extract, you can keep it going for a very long time by continuing to replenish and refill the bottle!
There are only two things you need to make Homemade Vanilla Extract - it's that simple!
- Vodka - You don't need to use anything special here. Choose a vodka that is fairly neutral (not flavored) and 80-proof. I like to use Prairie Organic Spirits vodka because it's a nice, smooth, organic vodka that doesn't break the bank.
- Vanilla beans - You can use any kind of vanilla bean, but I used these Madagascar Vanilla beans.
See full recipe below for detailed directions.
Substitutions & Variations
There are a few easy changes you can make to this recipe to really make it your own:
- Use a different spirit: Traditionally, vanilla extract is made with vodka, but you can also make it with bourbon, brandy or rum. Be prepared that you will taste a difference!
- As you're choosing your spirit, make sure it is unflavored! And as always, use a good-quality spirit (if it's not something you would enjoy drinking, then it's not something you should cook or bake with).
- You can also make other extracts with this same recipe and method (for example, cherry extract or mint extract). Keep in mind those have very different uses than vanilla.
I have not tested this recipe with other variations, but if you do, let us know how it turns out in the comments! I always love to hear how you're adapting these recipes and use those as ideas for future recipes as well!
How to make Homemade Vanilla Extract
This recipe comes together in just a few minutes!
Cut the vanilla beans in half longways to expose the vanilla bean paste. Place them inside your chosen bottles.
Fill each bottle to the top with vodka. Place the cap to close, then shake and store in a cool, dry place.
The bottles will need to rest for at least 8 weeks to infuse the vanilla flavor into the alcohol (the longer it sits, the stronger the flavor). You want to shake the bottles every week to make sure the vanilla bean paste is distributed.
Hint: You can use any kind of bottle for your vanilla. If it's for gifts, you might want smaller bottles, and if it's your own, you might want a larger bottle. Feel free to modify the recipe to suit your bottle!
Expert Baking Tips
- Make sure to cut the vanilla beans in half to expose the vanilla bean paste. This helps the flavor infuse into the vodka more easily.
- Store the vanilla extract in a cool, dark place -- in your pantry cabinet is a great spot.
- Shake the vanilla approximately once per week to help disperse the vanilla bean paste in the bottle.
- You can use any type of bottle for this recipe. Large bottles, small bottles, store-bought bottles or recycled bottles all work well!
- I find maple syrup bottles are often a good size and shape for vanilla extract!
- If you're making vanilla to give as a gift, it doesn't need to sit for 8 weeks before you can give it. Label the bottle with a "use after" date and then you can give it as a gift anytime!
How to refill Homemade Vanilla Extract
As you are using your vanilla extract, you'll want to refill it when it is about ⅓ empty. If you let it get lower than that, your vanilla will be too diluted when you refill, and you'll need to wait a few weeks again before you use it to get that strong vanilla flavor again.
To refill your vanilla:
- Add a vanilla bean or two (whatever you have on hand) to the bottle, cut in half. You don't have to add a lot of fresh beans every time you're refreshing.
- Top off the bottle with vodka (or your chosen spirit) and shake.
- You can use the vanilla right away if you refilled less than ⅓ of the bottle.
Do I need to take out the vanilla beans?
No! The alcohol preserves the beans, so you can continue adding beans to the bottle without ever removing them (until you can't fit any more beans in the bottle). I've heard stories of people that have had their vanilla extract going for ten years!
An important note is that the alcohol will only preserve the beans while the beans are actually covered. This is another reason to refill your vanilla before it gets to be ⅓ empty so you're preserving the vanilla beans that you have in your bottle.
There are only a few things you'll need for this recipe:
- A bottle of your choice: You can make vanilla with any size or shape of bottlen as long as it has a secure lid. Recycled bottles also work well (maple syrup bottles tend to be a nice shape and size). For this recipe, I used small 4 oz. glass bottles, which were great to give as gifts.
- Labels (optional): If you'd like to label your jars, you can use gift tags or adhesive labels to add the date the extract was made (or the date it will be ready to use).
Let the vanilla extract sit for at least 8 weeks before using. The flavor will only get better the longer it sits, so feel free to give it more time!
Don't sweat it! Shake them whenever you think about it. Once per week is a good goal, but sometimes that just isn't realistic, so shake them whenever it comes to mind.
The floaters are the seeds from the vanilla bean paste - this is a good thing and means the vanilla is mixing well with the spirit! You won't notice them when you're using the extract.
I'd recommend at least 3 vanilla beans in a 4 oz. bottle, but you can always add more or less; it'll just change how strong the flavor of the extract will be.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
- 12 vanilla beans
- 16 ounces unflavored vodka
- 4 glass bottles with lids 4 oz. each
- Clean and dry your glass bottles.
- Cut your vanilla beans in half lengthwise to expose the vanilla bean paste. Make sure the vanilla beans are short enough to fit into your bottle (cut or fold them if needed!)
- Add the beans to the bottles (3 beans for each 4 oz. bottle) and pour in vodka to cover and fill.
- Close each bottle with the lid and give a good shake! Store in a cool, dry place, shaking once per week to distribute the vanilla. They're ready to enjoy after at least 8 weeks, but you can always let them sit longer for a stronger flavor!