in the kitchen: vanilla extract

A few months ago I spotted a post on Joy the Baker about making your own vanilla extract. What?! Why??? Yes, I know–it’s a little weird to make vanilla extract, considering you can buy it easily just about everywhere. But I was honestly a little curious about how it would be if I made it myself–and it seemed like it could be a lot better than store bought. Worth a try, right?

doing the prep work in September.

Late in September I gathered all the supplies up (vanilla beans, purchased at a local kitchen supply store; 80 proof vodka, and a jar) and set out to get it going so it’d be done by the time I started baking Christmas cookies. I faithfully followed the pointers in the post and was sure to shake the little jar that was stashed away in the pantry every week for the two months it needed to age. I even stuck a pretty label on the front so I wouldn’t forget when I started it, since I tend to be a bit scatter-brained.

see how light it was before? the extract got to be so dark and rich after 8 weeks of aging!

Right before Thanksgiving I just couldn’t stand it any longer, and popped the top open to sniff it–it was the best smelling vanilla I had ever smelled! (And was subsequently passed around to anyone I could grab to confirm that it was indeed marvelous.) I also needed a teaspoon of it for some cream cheese icing for cupcakes and I have to say, it was a huge success. Now I just need to get cracking on my cookie baking and using up some more of this! I didn’t make a huge batch this time, since I wanted to see if it worked before using more vodka and investing in lots of vanilla beans. (They’re pretty expensive, but I’ve seen them on for reasonable prices. Vanilla beans, in my opinion though, are one of those ingredients that are really worth it!) But I think perhaps next Christmas I’ll plan far enough ahead, buy some pretty bottles and give it to friends who bake. It really is loads better than the store bought… Definitely worth the wait and patience (something I don’t excel at!).

Amy Karol also recently posted about homemade vanilla and used a slightly different technique (it has to “brew” for 6 months instead of 2). She also listed some helpful links for bottles, so be sure to check out what she wrote. Would you ever consider making your own vanilla extract? Have you ever done it before? Got a favorite brand of vanilla that is not worth missing? Please share!

December 3, 2010 · 41 lovely thoughts
posted in in the kitchen · tags: , ,

Karin van D. December 3, 2010 at 08:56

I can almost smell it hear, yumm. Sounds delicious. What a wonderful idea to make that vanilla extract yourself. I am definitely going to try that myself one day! Are you going to share your cookie recipes too? ;-)

weirdrockstar December 3, 2010 at 09:11

This seems utter coolness which I´m inclined to copy. Absolutely.
I normally shove the vanilla beans ( after I´ve scraped the seeds off ) in a sugar jar. In two weeks it´s vanilla sugar. One jar can contain just as many vanilla beans as you wish. The more, the merrier. Also, as I don´t use that much white sugar, my sugar is usually cane sugar. It gives extra depth to vanilla sugar too. With macadamian sugar you get that nutty flavor as a bonus.

Jill/laughbutnotloudly December 3, 2010 at 09:19

I decided about two weeks ago that homemade vanilla would make an outstanding Christmas present. If only inspiration had struck three weeks earlier when there was still time to make it before the holidays. But I’m glad to hear the recipe was a success. I’ll try to remember next year to get cracking around mid-late October!

Little Black Car December 3, 2010 at 10:02

Our neighbors bring us big bottles of Mexican vanilla (coumadin-free) when they go home to the Rio Grande valley. It’s awesome. I should try making my own, though.

You could make custom-flavored vanilla: Little bit of cinnamon or nutmeg or something.

Marloes December 3, 2010 at 10:10

Thanks for sharing, I will give this a try.

andreak December 3, 2010 at 10:40

Every once in a while our TJ Maxx has some interesting vanillas. I have gotten some Williams and Sonoma and also several Madagascar varieties. They are usually around 10 dollars a bottle, but they are about 8-10oz. They are so vibrant in comparison to grocery store brands. They also have vanilla beans in airtight storage containers between $4-$8. I still think I would like to try making my own. Fun useful project and post!

Carys December 3, 2010 at 10:57

What a lovely idea, glad it turned out well. Lovely pictures.
From Carys of La Ville Inconnue

Evie December 3, 2010 at 11:20

We’ve been using homemade vanilla extract for years. It’s far superior to store bought in my opinion. I’ve been meaning to get another jar going recently. Maybe I’ll actually get around to it over Christmas.

Lauren W. December 3, 2010 at 11:25

Isn’t homemade vanilla just wonderful? I usually buy my beans from; if you’re going to make a quantity of extract for gifts, of if you just happen to use them a lot in baking, their prices for “wholesale” quantities of beans are fair and the quality is quite good. Looks like they sell on Amazon as well. :)

They keep for quite some time wrapped very well to keep them from drying out (and from making the entire kitchen reek of vanilla!). I usually do two layers of foil, one of plastic wrap and then inside a freezer bag.

Holly Storm December 3, 2010 at 11:34

Oh! Wish I had thought of doing this in time for Christmas cooking! Looks great.

Amy Menges December 3, 2010 at 11:38

I’ve always liked the Costco Madagascar vanilla, your project sounds intriguing enough I might have to try it! thanks!

Rosie December 3, 2010 at 11:41

We tried to make vanilla extract last fall (by we I mean Daddy and I). It didn’t turn out well enough for cookies or icing, but it was delightful in the 16 fruit cakes we baked. I think our main problem was that we used a lovely Jamaican Rum which had quite a bit of flavour of it’s own.

ann December 3, 2010 at 11:48

wow. this so sounds like something I would do! Maybe next year.

Christine Hand December 3, 2010 at 12:34


What a fabulous idea! I never would have thought to make my own vanilla extract. I absolutely love Madagascar bourbon vanilla. Trader Joe’s brand and Lochhead’s are my favorites. I was going all the way to St. Louis (since we don’t have a Trader Joe’s where I live in central Illinois) to get vanilla, but then I discovered Lochhead’s, which is made by a family run operation in St. Louis and is regionally distributed. It’s every bit as good as Trader Joe’s. Perhaps I will have to try making it myself now, though.



Sam December 3, 2010 at 13:18

Wow! I’ve seen a bunch of bloggers making vanilla extract but you may have actually convinced me that it’s worth doing! And seeing as I can actually buy vodka now… I’ll have to try this when I’m home :)

Erin December 3, 2010 at 14:22

My friend made some this summer. She bought her beans online (but I forget where she said) and made her’s in a wine bottle, which meant there was a lot to go around. She gave me a small, smoked glass bottle full and I can tell you it is WONDERFUL. If you buy real vanilla extract in stores, it’s really expensive, but if you buy the beans in bulk and make a lot it’s cheaper in the long run and it’ll last you forever, too. Plus, you’ll have some for sharing :)

Olivia December 3, 2010 at 15:04

I actually saw a homemade vanilla extract recipe too and was thinking about doing it. I’m so glad yours came out well, I havee to give it a try now. I also read that you can just keep re-upping the vanilla and vodka and shaking it up when you run low without letting it brew once you’ve made the initial batch.

Maša December 3, 2010 at 15:50

mmmmm :)

Paige December 3, 2010 at 16:13

This sounds amazing!

jessica December 3, 2010 at 17:34

oh this sounds like a plan for me! i use vanilla in everything!! Every since i can remember my grandparents always brought back vanilla from mexico and thats what I use to this day, it is called Danncy Vanilla. It just has a unique flavor i can’t seem to get out of any other vanilla. It also comes in brown or CLEAR which makes it great for frostings you want to stay white.

Karen B December 3, 2010 at 18:31

I’ve been wanting to start Joy’s Vanilla ‘recipe’ for ages but finally got around it two weeks ago. A nice bottle of bourbon, 6 vanilla beans and I’m set :) If only two months weren’t such a long time…

Christie December 3, 2010 at 18:51

wow – well done casey! i never thought to make my own vanilla extract! ill have to give that a go sometime!

Elissa December 3, 2010 at 18:52

Casey, this is what I like about you: every craft you present is amazing and beatifully designed. I am DYING to try and gift this vanilla… your little set-up shot and the label is just beautiful. But it’s not that: I have NEVER gotten the vibe of “look how whimsically hipster I am” EVER which is what makes me kind of sour on blogs that are similar to yours. You are very authentic and never “holier than thou”. Keep doing what you do so well!!

Angela December 3, 2010 at 19:21

Oh wow.. .that’s so awesome! Thanks for sharing your experience!

Renee December 3, 2010 at 22:44

I have to try this, I go through so much vanilla, esp when I’m a klutz and knock that small little bottle over.

I found a recipe today for shortbread that I have to try. Shortbread has to be my favorite cookie. I’m making it on Monday. If it comes out well I’ll share the recipe.

I’m also making up a batch of Amish Friendship Bread starter. I like making things like that, too.

Renee December 3, 2010 at 22:46

Ummm, I tried to take out small or little but caught it too late.

Elizabeth VP December 3, 2010 at 23:01

I just bookmarked a recipe for making vanilla extract a few weeks ago, for my “try it one of these days” list. Now I think I’ll have to move it up to the “try it soon” list. It’d be ready around Valentine’s Day, I suppose. In the meantime, I’ll have to get some Trader Joe’s vanilla extract to try.

Adorevintage December 3, 2010 at 23:46

I can smell the delicious aroma all the way in California! *hehe*

I love that you made your own vanilla extract! I always feel that nowadays we take shortcuts for everything. Hope you make lots of yummy goodies with your vanilla extract!


Krizstina December 4, 2010 at 00:04

You had me at Vodka!

Tilly December 4, 2010 at 04:45

Oh. Yum. Vanilly is my absolute favourite smell. This looks divine!

Bridget December 4, 2010 at 10:26

I did this

last November
– it was quite fun and made delicious vanilla (and the cost comparison makes it a no-brainer!)

So glad you enjoyed making your vanilla!

Elizabeth December 4, 2010 at 15:20

Oh my gosh, so much patience you have. This stuff is liquid gold and makes pancakes heavenly.

Maegan December 4, 2010 at 17:57

I love the double-strength vanilla extract from Penzeys. We got a bottle in a wedding gift set and now we’re hooked. Even though it’s double-strength I usually used the amount called for in the recipe and my baked goods were stellar! Now I’m using the cheaper single strength, but I still think it’s the best vanilla I’ve found. You can order it at

I wonder if your homemade version is even better. Has anyone compared Penzeys’ to homemade?

Savoir Affaire December 4, 2010 at 19:39

I too just recently heard of this! I think one day I’ll try it myself. I remember the first time I made my own vanilla Icecream… still the best I EVER had!!

Nathalie December 4, 2010 at 23:41

What a fantastic idea! Can’t wait to try this out (although of course it won’t be ready for Christmas now, but heyho… then again, maybe it’ll come in handy when trying to lift the February blues!).

Rebecca December 6, 2010 at 12:39

Homemade vanilla extract is definitely the best! Another good place to get vanilla beans at a pretty good price is

Jiji December 6, 2010 at 13:03

I can’t wait to try making some vanilla!

Liz December 6, 2010 at 14:42

I do not think this is wierd at all. I made vanilla extract (along with recipe cards) as part of my wedding favors. I still have about a gallon of the stuff at home. :)

Lien December 7, 2010 at 05:17

I think I’m gonna try this!
My mom always keeps some vanilla beans in the sugar (normal white sugar). That way she always has vanilla sugar and doesn’t use any extract when baking. Which is also very yummie!

Katie December 12, 2010 at 19:10

This is so good to hear! I saved a link for this type of thing months ago but completely forgot about it. It’s nice to know someone (other than the original recipe poster) has tried it with great success! I will absolutely plan on making some as gifts next year! I love handing out sweet homemade things like this. :)

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