Day 11, Homemade Vanilla Extract

2012 Advent Calendar, Day 11

As promised, homemade vanilla extract! Once you try this yourself, you may wonder what took you so long to get with the program.

The principles are simple — choose a liquor for the base that’s about 40% alcohol, add vanilla beans and wait — but the results are extraordinary. I keep dark rum and bourbon versions on hand, though vodka is what you’ll usually find in stores because it has a very neutral flavor. I made the jump to dark liquors when I realized that either one would shine in nearly any recipe that calls for vanilla extract. Most baked goods would be complemented by them, don’t you think?

Because vanilla beans can be prohibitively expensive to buy in stores, I ordered mine from ebay. Yep, ebay. This store has a great reputation and a broad selection. And it’s a real bounty of beans, at least for a non-baker like me; I’m still working on the shipment I received a couple of years ago.

If you want to give this as a gift, I’ve created two versions of the label in the picture at the top of the post; they’re the perfect size to affix to a Ball jam jar. Just circle the base you used and they’re ready for gifting!

Homemade Vanilla Extract
Prep Time
15 mins
Total Time
15 mins
Making your own vanilla extract couldn't be easier or more delicious!
Servings: 48
Calories: 14 kcal
  • 3 medium vanilla beans
  • 1 cup dark rum or bourbon
  1. Sterilize your jar or bottle by pouring boiling water into it and letting it sit for 10 minutes. Pour out the water and continue.
  2. Slice vanilla beans lengthwise with a sharp knife. Tuck beans into the bottle or jar, then fill with liquor. Screw on the cap and shake it, then place it in a cool, dark cabinet or closet to mature.
  3. It’s ready after sitting for eight weeks with you shaking the jar once a week or so. I’ve seen other recipes that say you can use it after only two weeks, which may be the case. I haven’t had to break into my stash so early.
  4. As your extract gets depleted, top off the jar with more liquor and add another bean every now and then. You can even reuse a vanilla bean that’s been steeped in cream, just wash it off before putting it in the jar. I don’t bother taking the beans out until the extract is completely gone, but some people prefer to remove them after the initial 8 weeks is up. It’s really your call.
Recipe Notes

I usually make this in huge quantities in the original liquor bottle (omitting step 1). It's a nice use for older beans, if you have those lying around. Start with 10-15, depending on size and freshness. Dark rum comes in a nice brown bottle that keeps sunlight from affecting the extract. Stash bourbon in a pantry. 

Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini