homemade vanilla extract

We’re getting creative today, y’all. We’re going to make our own vanilla extract. From scratch. 

Say what?!

Well, I’m saying it – Yes! It can be done! I saw you scratching your heads, looking at me like I’m crazy, so I just wanted to clarify.

Vanilla extract has always been one of those ingredients, for me at least, that was always just a super market convenience. Need to make cookies? Go grab a bottle. Brownies or blondies? Oopsy, need to buy some more. And then, before I know  it, I’ve somehow accumulated four or five bottles of extract. #cookproblems

But I digress. When the hubs and I were flying back from our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic, almost two years (!) ago, I happened upon a stand in the middle of the outdoor airport that was selling jars of vanilla extract, and vials of some of the most beautiful vanilla beans I’d ever seen. Having only used the ordinary vanilla extract (not that I’m hating on McCormick), I decided to go ahead and pick up both a bottle and a vial. I thought to myself, if they’re selling it at the airport, it should be fine, right?

And boy oh boy, I could not have been more right. The first time I opened that bottle of extract, my sensory system felt as if it had died and gone to culinary heaven. Never before have I smelled vanilla that fragrant; so rich and floral, it could have passed for fragrance. I’m not even kidding. This was liquid culinary gold, and you bet your bottom dollar I was going to use this sparingly, and really really really enjoy it.

Flash forward some year or so later. I decided to use my first of only six vanilla beans for the hub’s birthday cake. Again, I was welcomed with that same, overpowering, delicious scent of exotic vanilla. Scraping out the beans, I knew that these pods were too special to just be tossed aside, so I put on my thinking cap and got to work.

Enter Joy the Baker. This baking goddess, a true inspiration of mine, knew exactly what I needed. I had recalled one of her posts when she talked about making homemade vanilla extract, and after that it just clicked. I assembled all three things I needed, and 5 minutes later, I had vanilla extract prepped.

Photo 2014-01-25 12.51.31 PM

Photo 2014-01-25 12.52.49 PM

The toughest part about this recipe, my dears, is the waiting period. Joy suggests letting the vanilla steep in the alcohol for two months for the flavors to fully develop. Storing it in a cool, dark place and giving it a good shake every week will help it move along. The wait is long and painstaking, but I promise, the end result is worth it. Do you really think that Joy would ever steer us wrong?

I didn’t think so.


Homemade Vanilla Extract {adapted from Joy the Baker’s recipe}

2/3 C. high proof alcohol…think 80 proof. I used a mix of Bowman’s Single Barrel Whiskey & Maker’s Mark. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand.

2 vanilla beans. My vanilla beans are from the Dominican Republic. You’ll find that, depending on where your beans are sourced, they will have slightly different flavors. Take a look here to see the different kinds!

1 mason jar, or any vessel with a very tight-fitting seal

a dark spot to store the jar

…and patience. Lots of patience.

To Make:

Use a sharp paring knife to cut lengthwise down the center of the vanilla beans, leaving about an inch at the top of the bean uncut. Put the vanilla beans into your mason jar, and cover completely with alcohol (you might find that you need to bend or fold the beans to fit – that’s okay!).

Tightly cover the jar and give it a good shake, then store in a cool, dry place for two months. Give the bottle a good shake every week to help meld the flavors (I find it helpful to set a reminder on my phone’s calendar).

After two months have passed, you’re ready to use it!

24 thoughts on “homemade vanilla extract

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