Homemade vanilla extract is incredibly easy to make, much cheaper than tiny store-bought bottles, and it makes a great gift. All you need are vanilla beans, liquor, and a little patience. The vanilla beans steep in the liquor of your choice for several months, resulting in syrupy, flavorful vanilla extract that beats the diluted store-bought version any day. Since there’s no cooking involved and the majority of the solution is 70-80 proof alcohol, there’s pretty much no chance of anything spoiling or turning out wrong. I made my first batch last year and just finished it up, so it was about time I created a new, much more plentiful supply.
What you’ll need:
Vanilla beans are expensive, and those beans will add up, especially if you’re making large quantities of extract. Forget about the grocery store and specialty spice stores and order your beans online. In the store, you might pay upwards of $3 per vanilla bean. I was able to find 1/4 lb vanilla beans (which turned out to be around 30 beans) on Amazon for less than $15, and I still have beans to spare.
Unless you’re a teenager doing shots of vanilla extract shoplifted from the gas station, you probably won’t be drinking this vanilla, so don’t use high-quality liquor. Just buy whatever is available and reasonably-priced. I used vodka this time around, but you can experiment with bourbon, rum, whiskey, or another liquor. The vodka lets the flavor of the vanilla shine, but a more flavorful base would delightfully complement the flavor of the vanilla.
As long as it’s clean, made of glass, and airtight, you can use any kind of bottle: glass bottles from the craft store, canning jars, recycled juice bottles, or the leftover bottle of vodka. If you’re giving away your vanilla extract as gifts, you may even want to tie little ribbons around them and slap on a decorative label. If you steep your extract in a few different bottles, you can reuse the beans and refill the first bottle you finish with vodka, starting a rotation. Much better than using one big bottle and running out completely!
- Use 3 vanilla beans per 1 cup liquor. Scale the quantities up or down as much as you’d like (I made 1 1/2 quarts!).
- Slice each vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the insides a bit to loosen the good stuff, and chop the beans into 1-2 inch pieces. No need to be precise.
- Combine the measured liquor and vanilla beans in the bottle(s) of your choice.
- Done! Let sit in a dark, cool place for 2-3 months before using. Shake the bottles every few days.
- When the vanilla is ready, it will be dark brown in color. Use as directed in any recipe.
- Label your bottles with the date you made them.
- Steeping the vanilla beans longer will, of course, make the vanilla more flavorful. Keep some (or all of the) vanilla beans in the bottle, even after the vanilla is ready.
- Leave a vanilla bean or two in each bottle if portioning out the extract into small bottles.
- Vanilla beans can be reused! When your first bottle is gone, refill it. Add a few extra beans to make up for lost flavor.
- Homemade vanilla extract will (safely) last for years, so don’t worry about making too much.
- If you don’t want to bother measuring: use 10 beans for an entire 750 ml bottle of alcohol.
- Concerned about using alcohol if you don’t drink, or have kids? Unless you specifically purchase alcohol-free vanilla extract in the store, store-bought vanilla extract always contains alcohol. A few teaspoons (1 tsp vanilla=1/9th of a shot) in a recipe is fine, and the alcohol content is no different than store-bought vanilla.
My vanilla is already darker in color just after 4 days. The simplicity of this recipe got me thinking of other liquor infusions to experiment with: cucumbers, fruit, edible flowers, spices, hot peppers…! Perhaps I will use the rest of the vodka for something of that nature and report back.
So there you have it. Now is a great time to start a batch of vanilla–it’ll be ready in time for fall and winter baking! What type of liquor will you use?