How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

I love Penzey’s Spices and spending too much money there to stock my cabinets with herbs, spices, extracts, seasonings and what-have-you. But last time I was there I spent $20 on 8 ounces of high quality vanilla extract. I know how to make vanilla extract at home, so why do I continue to pay so much for vanilla extract when I can make my own?

I used vanilla bean grains to make this “Perfect Pound Cake” from The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum. Mine wasn’t quite perfect (a little overbaked) but you get the idea. It would be a shame to throw away these potent little vanilla bean pods that you can use to make vanilla sugar or vanilla extract with. So if you’re asking, “How do you make your own vanilla extract at home?” I’ve got the step-by-step instructions and photos here for you!

Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe Ingredients & Supplies

  • 3 vanilla beans per
  • 1 cup vodka
  • Glass jar with tight fitting lid

Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe Directions

  1. Once you’ve already used your vanilla beans for a cake recipe (tutorial on how to use vanilla beans), place the vanilla beans in a glass mason jar or other bottle with a tight-fitting lid.
  2. Cover completely with 1 cup of vodka per 3 vanilla beans.
  3. Store for two or more months in a dark, cool place – away from the stove and oven which emit lots of heat.
  4. Occasionally give the bottle a good shake.

Congratulations – you’ve made your own homemade vanilla extract. As my husband likes to say, “Too easy.” You can top this off with vodka once in a while, just make sure to shake it up. I only used two vanilla beans in my last recipe, but I plan to use another two tonight, so I’ll add those into the jar to keep that homemade vanilla extract process going. This jar of vanilla extract can last you for years! I bet it would make good Christmas gifts, too…

How to Use Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans can be a little intimidating to use, but don’t be afraid of them! They really are incredibly simple to use, and add such an incredible flavor to your desserts. Below is a step-by-step tutorial on how to use vanilla beans, as well as some tips on when to use vanilla beans or the vanilla extract instead.

Instructions on How to use Vanilla Beans

  1. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise down the middle with a sharp knife. Don’t cut all the way through the vanilla bean, just the top to open it up.
  2. Using the edge of the knife, begin at one end and drag down to the other end, scraping the vanilla grains out of the bean.
  3. You can add these vanilla bean grains directly to what you’re cooking or mixing.

It’s that easy! And don’t throw that vanilla bean away. You can bury a dried vanilla pod in your sugar, and stir it around from time to time, to infuse the vanilla flavor into your sugar and make your own vanilla sugar. You can also make your own vanilla extract.

Vanilla (Bean and Extract) Usage Tips

  • Baking and cooking exposes your foods to heat for a long period of time, which can weaken the vanilla bean flavor. So in your actual cake batters, the vanilla extract would be a better choice since vanilla beans can be expensive. The alcohol may burn off some with the vanilla extract, but you’ll still get the necessary flavor.
  • But for something like a vanilla buttercream frosting a fresh vanilla bean may be perfect!
  • Don’t add vanilla extract to already hot liquids so the alcohol component and vanilla flavor doesn’t evaporate.
  • You can use the vanilla beans in sauces and syrups that aren’t cooked too much and it should retain the vanilla bean flavor. If you’re using a vanilla bean to infuse a syrup, sauce or cream for frosting, you typically want to steep it in the liquid for about 10 minutes.
  • Store your vanilla beans in a cool, dark space in an airtight container. It’s ideal to put it in a cabinet with all your other spices, not near your oven (which emits a lot of heat from the stove and oven). Vanilla beans can be stored 1 to 2 years if handled properly. Some people recommend exposing the moist vanilla beans to air every few weeks and then returning it to the airtight jar to avoid mold. I personally haven’t done this.

Edit: I recently shot a quick tutorial video on how to use vanilla bean pods and posted it on my YouTube channel. I was shaky because I had to rush out and do a radio interview immediately afterward, and then I had to yell at my beagle for trying to steal butter off of the counter right in the middle. Sorry about that. 🙂 I’ll shoot another soon when I have more time and I promise it won’t be as awkward!

 

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