If you've ever wondered how easy it would be to make homemade vanilla extract, you're in luck! This simple recipe only requires two ingredients and a little bit of patience. The result? A rich and flavorful vanilla extract that will take your homemade desserts to the next level.
Have you ever reached for a bottle of vanilla extract while baking, only to find an empty container? Or maybe you've been put off by the high prices and artificial ingredients found in store-bought vanilla extract.
As a professional chef and avid baker, I've experienced both of these frustrations. That's why I started making my own homemade vanilla extract years ago and haven't looked back since!
Making your own vanilla extract is not only super easy, but it's also much more cost-effective and healthier than buying it from the store.
Not to mention the flavor! Baking with homemade vanilla extract truly elevates any dessert you use it in.
I recently made a bowl of fresh whipped cream to enjoy with a slice of ricotta pear cake, and the difference in flavor from the homemade vanilla extract was astounding. It's great in a chocolate chip cookie, and really shines with the simple flavors of a classic custard pie. And, my famous fudgy salted caramel brownies wouldn't be the same without the intense vanilla flavor they get from a freshly made bottle of vanilla extract. They're everyone's absolute favorite!
I'm excited to share with you my simple and delicious recipe for homemade vanilla extract. Once you make your own, there's no going back!
Why this recipe works
- It's super easy to make at home with just two simple ingredients!
- Much more flavorful than store-bought vanilla extract.
- A must-have staple to have in your kitchen that you'll reach over for again and again.
- Making your own batch of vanilla extract can be more cost-effective compared to the store-bought kind.
- Perfect for gifting to friends and family who love to cook or bake!
Vanilla Beans - Using high-quality vanilla beans is not really necessary for making the best homemade vanilla extract. It's okay to use "grade B" beans, which are often sold at a discounted price. It will still taste great! Now, there's no hard and fast rule about which beans to select for your homemade vanilla extract. The choice boils down to your preference. Some people enjoy the bold, creamy notes of Madagascar vanilla beans, while others prefer the floral subtleties of Tahitian vanilla beans.
Alcohol - 80-proof vodka is the ideal alcohol for making homemade vanilla extract. It has a neutral flavor that doesn't overpower the vanilla, and it's also readily available in all liquor stores. I recommend using a cheaper brand, as the quality of the vodka doesn't make a significant difference in this recipe. You can also use other types of alcohol like bourbon, rum, or brandy if you want to experiment with different flavors.
*Full ingredient list with quantities is in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
- Glass Bottle: For easy storage, I like to use the actual alcohol bottle to brew my homemade vanilla extract, but then decant it into a smaller 16-oz glass bottle to keep handy on my shelf. You can also use a small glass bottle with a tight-fitting lid if you prefer. For gifting, you can use small decorative bottles with airtight lids - I used these 2-oz clear bottles with screw-on lids, but these cork-top bottles are super cute, and so are these swing top bottles. You can even mason jars!
- Funnel: This helps to transfer the alcohol and vanilla bean mixture into your glass bottle without making a mess.
- Printable Labels and Ribbons: If you're gifting your homemade vanilla extract, adding a personal touch can make all the difference. Look for printable labels and ribbons online to add a professional finish to your gift bottles.
Tip: Use some of those printable labels to add the date you started the vanilla to keep track.
1) Grab a sharp knife and make a slit down the center of each vanilla bean. Don't worry, it's easier than it sounds!
2) Carefully remove the pour spout from the bottle of vodka. You can use a butter knife or even your fingers, whatever works for you!
3) Now, it's time to add those lovely vanilla beans to the vodka.
4) Put on the cap and give it a good shake. Mix it all up and let the bottle sit in a cool, dark place for at least 3 months.
Tip: Don't forget to give it a shake every now and then!
5) That's it - You've got yourself some homemade vanilla extract to use whenever you need it.
6) When you're ready, decant the delicious vanilla extract into smaller bottles. Make sure to include a few of the vanilla beans for that extra flavor. It will get stronger the longer it sits!
How to properly slit a vanilla bean pod
This is a key step in making your homemade vanilla extract, but don't worry - it's easy once you get the hang of it.
- Place the vanilla bean on a cutting board, with one end towards you.
- Using a sharp knife, start at the top of the bean and make a cut down the center, leaving about an inch uncut at the bottom.
Tip: Try to avoid cutting all the way through to the ends - this way, your bean stays in one piece, making it easier to handle.
The most important thing is to expose the inner beans and oils to the vodka, and this method does just that. Don't overthink this step.
The beauty of homemade vanilla extract is in the flavor, not the precision of your knife skills!
Tips for success
- To store your homemade vanilla extract, choose a cool, dark place. Avoid extreme temperatures, such as those found in a refrigerator or freezer, or on top of a refrigerator. These conditions can cause the flavors to deteriorate over time.
- Don't rush the process, as the longer your homemade vanilla extract sits, the stronger (and better) it gets. The steeping period is essential for developing the aroma and taste. While you can technically use your homemade vanilla extract after 8 weeks, letting it sit for 3 months or more really bolsters the flavor.
- You might wonder what to do when your vanilla extract is running low - do you remove the beans? Do you add more alcohol? Simply top off your bottle with more vodka and let it sit again for 3-6 months to brew a new batch.
- After making two of batches of extract, don't dispose of your beans just yet. Remove the beans from the bottle and let them dry out. Once they're dry, add them to a canister of sugar. Let this sit for a few months to infuse into the sugar. Perfect for your morning coffee or tea.
Recipes to make with vanilla extract
Once you have made your fresh batch of vanilla extract, there are endless possibilities for using it in your recipes.
You can make classic vanilla desserts like vanilla bean ice cream, crème brûlée, and vanilla cupcakes. Add a splash of homemade vanilla extract to your cold brew coffee or hot chocolate for an extra special touch!
You can even make an Italian Marscapone whipped cream to enjoy with a medley of berries.
Whether you are a seasoned baker or just starting on your baking journey, here are some delicious ideas to try out:
Ricotta Cheesecake with Plums
This plum cheesecake is an absolute showstopper and a perfect dessert for any special occasion. The fluffiness of the ricotta cheese, combined with the tanginess of plums and vanilla extract, adds the perfect depth of flavor to the creamy filling.
Grandma's Old Fashioned Custard Pie
This classic custard pie is made with just a handful of ingredients and a homemade crisco pie crust. The custard filling is infused with the warm, comforting flavors of homemade vanilla extract and topped with a dusting of nutmeg. It's a simple yet elegant dessert that everyone will love.
Chocolate Espresso Shortbread Cookies
These rich and decadent cookies are a chocolate lover's dream. The addition of a splash of homemade vanilla extract really elevates the flavor of these cookies, making them stand out from your average chocolate cookie recipe. Trust me; you won't be able to stop at just one!
This rustic dessert is a perfect balance of sweet and tart flavors. The pears are poached in a spiced syrup, and the caramelized puff pastry crust for an extra layer of deliciousness. It's the ultimate comfort food dessert. Serve with vanilla ice cream!
When it comes to making homemade vanilla extract, the choice of vanilla beans can directly impact the flavor profile. The two most common types of vanilla beans are Tahitian and Madagascar beans.
Tahitian beans are known for their aromatic, floral, cherry-cherry-like qualities. They're plump and moist, which makes them a joy to work with. These beans are perfect if you're looking for a sweet, slightly fruity vanilla flavor.
Madagascar beans, also known as Bourbon beans, are the most common type used in vanilla extract production. They have a robust, creamy, and sweet flavor with hints of caramel. If you want a classic, strong vanilla flavor, then these are your go-to beans.
Yes, you can make a non-alcoholic version of vanilla extract by using vegetable glycerin and water instead of alcohol. However, the flavor and shelf life will be different from traditional vanilla extract.
As long as the vanilla beans are fully submerged in alcohol and stored in a cool, dark place, homemade vanilla extract can last for years without going bad or developing mold. However, if you notice any changes in color or smell, it's best to discard the extract and make a fresh batch.
No, homemade vanilla extract has a more intense and pure flavor compared to store-bought extracts that often contain added sugars or artificial flavors. The alcohol adds depth and complexity to the vanilla flavor without overpowering it.
Vanilla extract is made by steeping vanilla beans in alcohol, while vanilla bean paste is a blend of vanilla extract, sugar, and thickening agents. Vanilla extract has a more intense and concentrated flavor compared to vanilla bean paste.
Homemade vanilla extract can last for years if stored correctly. Keep it in a cool, dark place, and make sure the beans are fully submerged in alcohol to prevent mold growth. As time passes, the flavor will become more robust and intense.
Did you make any of these recipes and LOVE it? Please leave a star ⭐️ rating and/or comment to help other readers. I absolutely love hearing from you and do my best to answer all questions and comments. I love seeing when you make my recipes, so please tag me @ColeyCooks on Instagram and I will repost!