Handmade Holiday: Vanilla Extract


DSC02170Price note: This can be expensive (which defeats the point of handmade gifts) if you try and buy vanilla beans at your local store.  No store near me even sells them so I didn’t have this option anyway but for those who do- do NOT buy at a local store unless you just have money to waste.  At the time of this post, Williams Sonoma sells 2 Madagascar vanilla bean pods for $8.50 ($4.25 PER POD…insanity).  I purchased mine through ebay retailer Vanilla Beans USA and got 90 pods for $20 (can you say $.22 PER POD… yes!!).  They are Grade B (which means visual blemishes which aren’t important for what I’m doing) and perfect.  They have smaller quantities as well so just do the math and figure out how many you need or just store extras in a cool, dark place as they are an “infinity” food (they don’t go bad just eventually lose some of their potency after several years of storage).


Ingredient note: You can substitute rum or bourbon for the vodka.  Vodka will cause a cleaner, crisper vanilla flavor; rum a spicier less potent vanilla; and bourbon will be a dark, dark extract and you will taste the bourbon in the end result.  Remember, don’t buy top shelf, any low end brand works!


This is a super, super simple recipe and only requires two ingredients.  The longer it steeps the better but if you are short on time, I’ve provided a shortcut.  The key to good extract is not making vanilla flavored vodka.  If you use too few pods that’s what you’ll end up with.  To be called real vanilla extract, the USDA requires a minimum of 35% alcohol by volume and 13.35 ounces of pod per gallon.  In me terms, that means 8-11 pods per cup of alcohol.


Homemade Vanilla Extract

1 cup 70 proof vodka

10 vanilla bean pods


Standard directions:  Drop the pods in a glass container.  Pour vodka over pods.  If you want, you can split two or three of the pods and release some of the beans but all that means is additional work straining them out at the end. Shake daily for two weeks and then once a week thereafter.  Can be used in about 4 weeks time but will be strongest with a 3-6 month steep.  Store in a cool, dark place during the process.  Pods can be reused and to make more extract if you run low, simple pour more vodka on the pods to keep the extract going all year long.


I forgot a gift fast fix directions:  Place vanilla pods in a glass container.  Heat vodka over low heat on the stovetop.  Do not boil and if you have a gas stove for heaven’s sake be careful!  Once heated just below boiling, pour over vanilla pods.  Steep until cool then cap and shake well.  Shake twice daily for two weeks and then give your gift.



DSC02176 Fresh Madagascar vanilla beans cooling in the heated vodka









Bottled and ready to be stored











Already a beautiful, dark amber gold after only 24 hours steeping and shaking


2 thoughts on “Handmade Holiday: Vanilla Extract

  1. Jan says:

    Thank you very much for passing on the cheap source for vanilla. If making homemade extract is the only purpose for using the vanilla, those beans are probably ok… Were they marked as Grade B vanilla beans? They are nothing close to what a good Grade A Gourmet bean should look like. I just wanted to clarify this point and explain that not all vanilla is the same 🙂



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