Saturday, November 24, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

About six months ago I saw a recipe for homemade vanilla extract on Pinterest and I thought I HAD to make this for Christmas this year!  Not only do I love baking, but I love giving gifts that are useful and I have a lot of friends and family members that enjoy baking almost as much as I do.  Shortly after I found the recipe, I bought Premium Bourbon-Madagascar Vanilla Beans on (1/4 pound, or approximately 27 beans), bought a huge bottle (I believe it was a half-gallon) of the cheapest 80-proof vodka I could find, and started following the recipe.

I have no photos of the initial stages, but I used about 20 vanilla beans for the entire half gallon of vodka.  I cut the beans in half, then followed the recipe to slice the bean down the middle leaving the end intact.  I used three mason jars and put an equal amount of vanilla beans in each jar, covered with vodka, gave them a good shake then put them in our pantry (so they are out of the sunlight) and then waited...

I gave them a good shake again after a couple weeks and then waited some more.

I shook them up again after another couple weeks and then waited some more.

I continued to shake the jars every couple weeks for about five or six months, or until the vodka has been infused with the vanilla and is a nice dark brown and looks something like this:

Vanilla Bean & Vodka mixture after sitting for about five months
If you don't want to wait five months to gift your vanilla extract, you can place some of the vanilla beans in your small bottles so the extract will continue to steep after you give the gift.  Just be sure to note on the label when the extract will be ready to use!  For me, I didn't want to include the vanilla beans in the small bottles because I could see it as an annoyance when you're trying to use the extract and the bean comes out of the bottle and dumps into whatever you're making.

With my vanilla finally done steeping (yay!) I found 2 oz and 4 oz amber colored boston round bottles on and decided those would be perfect for my gifts!  They have many options for sizes and colors, but I thought amber would work great and help protect the extract from sun penetration if it's left on the counter.  I removed the vanilla beans from the extract before pouring the extract into the smaller bottles, but I didn't strain the mixture so there are some of the small seeds in each bottle.

Everything is cuter with a baker's twine bow!
I decided to gift a mixture of both 2 oz bottles and 4 oz bottles depending on how frequently the gift recipient bakes.  I designed my own labels to note what it is (Homemade Pure Vanilla Extract), the date (Christmas 2012) and ingredients (vanilla beans, vodka and a pinch of love) and printed on shimmery tan paper.  I used spray adhesive to mount the labels to the bottles and tied each bottle with a baker's twine bow.

I can't say how many bottles my half gallon of vodka made since I started using it straight out of the mason jar for some of my baking for a Bridal Shower, but I can say that this made a TON of vanilla and is definitely cost effective if you bake a lot and want to make it for yourself.

For gifts to some of my closer friends and family, I'm combining a bottle of my homemade vanilla extract with  a bag of store-bought cookie mix and placing in a cute bag.  I considered making my own cookie mix in a Mason jar, but I think the store-bought mix in a bag will last longer and be great for a few months AFTER Christmas when everyone is done consuming the massive amounts of cookies they made themselves.

Vanilla extract and cookie mix gift
For my coworkers (and would be great as a neighbor's gift or teacher's gift as well!) I just tied a simple tag with their name on it.

Great coworker gift or neighbor gift
I was really glad that I decided to give this a shot as it turned out better than expected and I love giving gifts that are useful!  I don't think I'll be buying vanilla extract again; I'm going to continue making it myself from now on!

If you like my labels and bottles, I'm selling them in my Etsy shop (DigitalCake) so you can save time by not having to design and adhere the labels to the bottles yourself!  Custom orders are welcome (for quantity and to change the design and paper color).


  1. Some cheese cloth and a funnel would be a cheap easy way to help you strain those seeds out if you didn't want them in there.

  2. Good idea with the cheese cloth. I've also read that people have used a coffee filter too, but cheese cloth would probably work better!