Homemade Vanilla

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If you think you’ve seen this before, you’re not wrong–I posted this last fall and it was our most popular recipe of 2013! It’s not too early (or too late!) to get started on brewing your own homemade vanilla, so if this is something you’ve wanted to do in the past, today’s your day! 

Original Post

You guys, I have a confession. I’m kind of the biggest Grinch in the universe. I don’t mean to be–I genuinely want to love the Christmas season. But see…when the 4th of July is over and then you go to Hobby Lobby and they’re all decked out for Christmas, by the time the big day rolls around ALMOST 6 MONTHS LATER, I’m so done. I’m over it. Right now, I’m ambivalently pleased that Christmas is around the corner, but come December, I’ll be ready to pack up my tree before I’ve even decorated it.

So in October, I’m all excited about Christmas cards and holiday goodies, so really, now is the key time for me to pounce on Christmas, because if I don’t, I’m going to have a lot of half-filled treat bags, undelivered laundry detergent (yes, I give laundry detergent to friends and teachers for Christmas…I’m THAT friend), and Christmas cards that I post on Facebook 6 days after Christmas is over. Some of you may think I’m kidding or exaggerating. I’m so not. All of these things have happened.

Basically…I’m here to help anyone else who feels a little frazzled by the time December rolls around. If you’ve never made your own vanilla, it’s amazing–the taste is incomparable (especially when you consider the cost of making your own vanilla vs. buying real vanilla extract), and if you make it for gift-giving, you can start now. October. Pre-holiday burnout. And when you give it as a gift, people can make their own dang cookies and your kitchen stays mess-free, which is pretty much the greatest gift you can give yourself AND your children during the busiest time of the year.

You’re going to need some supplies–vanilla beans, liquor (yes,  vanilla extract is made with liquor–I know people who were genuinely shocked to learn this), and bottles. And labels (eventually, but you can get them now if you want). If you’re like me and live in a place where you can conveniently purchase large bottles of hard liquor in grocery stores and places like Sam’s Club and Costco whilst buying baby food, milk, and eggs, the liquor purchasing is no biggie (unless you’re trying to draw as little attention to yourself as possible and proceed to lose your Sam’s Club receipt, so you’re waiting in line to get a duplicate receipt so they’ll let you leave, then you spill your entire 32-ounce Diet Coke and run into your ecclesiastical leader with a giant bottle of vodka and a giant bottle of white rum in your shopping cart…not that I know ANYTHING about this scenario…)

ANYWAY. I decided I wanted to try making vanilla with both vodka and white rum to see what I liked better. For the record, they both smell like death.

homemade vanilla rum and vodka

When it comes to booze, I pretty much know nothing from firsthand experience, so I was just going off what I was reading on the internet. Vodka is often the standard for vanilla-making, but a lot of people also recommended using rum. But…I don’t like the flavor of rum–I find it sickly and overpowering. So I decided to try using white rum, which is just about as flavorless and straight-up alcohol-y as vodka.

I was actually pretty surprised to discover that even though the vodka and white rum smelled almost exactly the same before I added the vanilla beans, once they had brewed for awhile, they were very different. The vodka vanilla was similar to what you buy in a store, so if that’s what you’re after, go for the vodka. The rum vanilla was sweeter and more fragrant. After a few years of making this, I only use white rum to make vanilla because it’s hands-down my favorite.

I bought my bottles and vanilla beans from Amazon. Don’t even think about buying your vanilla beans in a grocery store–they’re, like, $10/bean, plus 20% of your soul and a security deposit on your firstborn child. Think about how many bottles you want to make, and shop around for the best price according to your needs. These ones are greatOliveNation also has really great sales on them sometimes, so be sure to check them out and watch there, too. If this turns into “your thing” you’re planning on doing every year like me, I’d recommend just kind of watching all of the time, so you can get a feel for how prices are fluctuating.

vanilla beans

I use these 4-ounce glass bottles.

amber bottles

I think these are ideal because it’s the perfect size for gift-giving and the dark-colored glass helps protect the flavor of the vanilla.

There are lots of different methods to making vanilla, but I like cutting the ends off.

homemade vanilla

This helps the brewing process go faster, so if you get a late start (like mid-November), you could still conceivably have enough time to get it done.

I divided up my beans equally into large mason jars

homemade vanilla

and then covered them with the rum (or vodka…but really, it’s all about the rum.)

homemade vanilla

You could also put the beans directly into the bottle, but I wanted to use the beans later for something else and I didn’t want to risk them getting stuck in the narrow neck of the bottle.

Place the lids on your jars and shake them vigorously. Then place them in a cool, dark place (like a closet or a cupboard) and shake them once a week or so.

In about a month, the vanilla flavor will have started infusing the liquor and it will be darker and fragrant. It will never get as dark as commercial vanilla because they almost always use artificial coloring, but as long as it smells good, you’re good to go.

homemade vanillaIt’s usable at this point, and likely better than most stuff you can buy in the store. But if you can, I would let it brew for another month at least. This year, I started mine in July!

Finally, when you’re ready to give these away, carefully (like…use a funnel. This stuff is precious) fill the bottles.

homemade vanilla

I also stick a bean in each bottle so the flavor will continue to get stronger (you may need to trim it down a little to fit).

If you have beans left over, be sure to squeeze out the bean paste from the beans

vanilla bean paste

and save it in an airtight container. Use it in ice creams, sweet sauces, whipped cream, jams, jellies, etc. You can also allow the pods to dry out (after you squeeze out their insides) and then grind them up into a powder using a coffee or spice grinder and sprinkle it into anything that you’d like to add vanilla flavor to (or mix it with sugar to make your own vanilla sugar).

To make the labels, I used some Martha Stewart kraft paper labels that were once available at Staples, but they don’t make them anymore. Here is what I’ve found that you might be able to use instead:

40 Printable Kraft labels

40 Printable Grey labels

Chalkboard labels

More chalkboard labels

Also, I found this handy-dandy punch if you want to get creative.

I’m not including a printable because you might want them to say something different or more customized (plus, chances are your name is not Jones…and what if you use Tahitian vanilla beans? Or Mexican?). But I will tell you how I made them in the printable instructions below, so never fear.

Check out how cute they are on the bottles!

Homemade vanilla from Our Best BitesAlso…remember these cookies? Giant oatmeal chocolate chip cookies? They call for a whole tablespoon of vanilla, which is part of what makes them so delicious. So if you really love someone, you could tuck a copy of that recipe in with a bottle of this amazing vanilla with a bag of high-quality chocolate chips (these Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips are my favorite for that particular recipe).

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Excited?? I hope so! This is the only way our neighbor/co-worker gifts get done!

This is how I did things…please feel free to customize everything to your own needs/tastes.

Print

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Homemade Vanilla


Description

A practical, original, and yummy gift – perfect for the holidays!


Ingredients

  • 2 1.75-liter bottles vodka or white rum
  • 60 vanilla beans
  • 4-ounce glass amber bottles (between 30-40) washed (you probably won’t use all of them at once)
  • Martha Stewart Kraft Labels, Flourish style

Instructions

  1. Cut the ends off the vanilla beans and divide them evenly among 4-5 1-quart glass mason jars.
  2. Cover with vodka or rum and close tightly. Shake vigorously.
  3. Place in a cool, dark place and shake the bottles about once a week for at least 1-2 months (but you could do this forever if you wanted).
  4. When ready to gift, carefully fill each glass bottle with vanilla extract and secure the lids tightly. If you’d like, you can include a vanilla bean (you’d likely have to trim it) in each bottle.

Notes

  • If you have beans left over, be sure to squeeze out the bean paste from the beans and save it in an airtight container. Use it in ice creams, sweet sauces, whipped cream, jams, jellies, etc. You can also allow the pods to dry out (after you squeeze out their insides) and then grind them up into a powder using a coffee or spice grinder and sprinkle it into anything that you’d like to add vanilla flavor to (or mix it with sugar to make your own vanilla sugar).

 

For the labels, this is what I did:

1. Use the template designs OR make your own to print using this Avery template.

2. The print font is Penelope Anne and the script font is Lavenderia. Everything is centered.

JONES FAMILY (Penelope Anne, 14 pt font)
Madagascar Vanilla (Lavenderia, 26 pt font)
ALL-NATURAL * HOMEMADE (Penelope Anne, 14 pt font)

If you’d like, you could include favorite recipes that use vanilla and a key ingredient, like a bag of chocolate chips.

*Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links.

216 comments

  1. I’ve wanted to do this for years but never think about it in time to hand out as Christmas gifts. So thanks for the early reminder!

    I’m a Christmas FREAK so I will try to love you inspite of your confession. And I will try not to feel too guilty knowing that I am one of the people that makes you love it less than you should. My Christmas lights will be on the day after Halloween and I’d have my tree up then too if not for the fact that it’s always live and wouldn’t live long enough.

    So the Martha Stewart labels, can they go through the printer? I’m assuming so since yours are printed but I wanted to be sure.

  2. I love this idea! And I love the mental image of you standing in line with diet coke spilled all over you and giant bottles of alcohol in your cart when your bishop walks up to say hi. Maybe you better give him 2 bottles of vanilla for Christmas to smooth things over. Ha!

  3. Pinned immediately. We don’t drink and our county is dry, so I would have to buy the liquor somewhere else incognito. (Hmmmm… need to start working on my disguise.) This. looks. awesome. And I am thrilled, thrilled I tell you, with the link for relatively cheap vanilla beans! I’ve never considered buying them at the grocery store where they want a contract on your firstborn for them. Thanks, Kate.

    1. HA! Yes. A booze-buying disguise. In Utah, I would have had to go to the state liquor store, probably with my kids in tow, and it would have made for a very interesting experience, haha.

        1. Lot’s of LDS people are fine with vanilla…although I’m sure some don’t realize that vanilla actually has alcohol in it. But the rest of us figure it cooks out right 🙂 People who aren’t might use vanilla flavoring…but like I said, most don’t worry about it.

        2. I wouldn’t worry about it, either. Chances are if they are SO extreme that they wouldn’t be okay with vanilla extract, you probably have a good idea of that already…like I can think of 1 or 2 people that I wouldn’t be comfortable giving this to, and I know a loooot of Mormons. 🙂

  4. I did this last year. I was so excited. I started in July making (what I thought would be) the best vanilla ever. I am scared to use it. I normally use Mexican vanilla…let’s face it, it the best smell on earth. So making my own, and discovering that the sweet smell I have grown up loving was not to be found. I was underwhelmed with my months of jar shaking. I still have the homemade vanilla, but have not touched it. I am not even sure if it’s good any more. Would I notice a difference in my baking between my homemade and my Mexican? If given as a gift….would others wonder why the sweet smell they are familiar with is noticeably not present? Just curious about your thought???

    1. What kind of vanilla beans did you use? It’s possible you got a bad batch, too–my beans smelled heavenly when I got them and my extract smells heavenly now.

      I don’t know for sure if you’d notice a difference in the flavor or if others would notice. Try a batch of cookies with what you have and see what happens! 🙂

    2. Jennifer, I grew up on Mexican vanilla too and it is the best smell on earth! It is sweet and vanilla-y and delicious. Recently, I had to switch to store-bought vanilla because I live in Washington state and don’t have access to anyone going to Mexico anymore. What I noticed is that no matter the brand, pure vanilla has a strong alcohol smell. The vanilla smell is still there, but it is nothing like the smell of Mexican vanilla. A lot of the sweetness is missing.

      I’ve been switching brands to try and find one I like the best and I can always tell a difference in my baked goods, so I would expect that you would taste the difference too. The most dramatic difference is when I used the last of my Mexican vanilla and then used some McCormick vanilla. It’s not the same. It might not be that you got a bad batch of vanilla beans, it might just be that pure extract is so different from what you’re used to.

      Anyone unfamiliar with Mexican vanilla or who has always used pure extract might not understand the difference. Likewise, could it be that you aren’t used to the way extract smells? Maybe you could try buying a bottle from the store and then compare the smells to see if yours is really bad.

      I miss Mexican vanilla but I think I’m going to have to try making my own! This is an inspiring post!

      1. I had the same concern…last year I made some with extra beans, as I wanted it stronger. I used vodka and the beans smelled good, though a bit more flowery then I was expecting … opened and cut up beans and let it sit for 6 months and now have several bottles sitting in my cupboard that I’m chicken to use for the same reason, that it doesn’t have the same sweet vanilla smell I expected. Then my husband went to Mexico for work and brought me back more vanilla which I love and the smell is what I expect. But maybe soon I’ll have to make two batches of something using both to see if I can taste the difference and get over my fear…cuz I was so so proud to have made it and so I must figure it out 🙂

      2. Diana – I live in Chehalis. I absolutely love Mexican vanilla and have never found anything like it. What I bought there was also quite darker and richer, and when i added it to something like whipping cream it always made it darker. It never bothered me, I just got used to it. I keep asking for anyone that goes to Mexico to bring some back for me.

  5. Hi Brooke (number 4). Just chiming in here again. I have been using mine for just about 3 yrs without trouble. Alcohol preserves the beans. I need to replace mine but only because my beans are spent. Perhaps by law your bottle needs an exp date? Or they put it on there because people expect it? Or they want you to buy more? Or there are other ing in there? Mine is in dark cabinet, never had trouble.

  6. Grinch here too! Want to love the holiday season, always feel a day late and a dollar short. Add in hosting Christmas dinner for 18, after doing same at Thanksgiving, well, I’m pretty much done in.

    But I made homemade vanilla extract for myself in 2011 after reading about it on Attainable Sustainable blog. EASY! My SIL had leftover vanilla bean from some project and gave me 3 beans. FYI, Costco sells vanilla beans for a reasonable price. 12 beans, so perfect for this project. I buy stopper bottles from Walmart (bottles for homemade beer). Cheap vodka or rum. Don’t need the good stuff, no one will know. I placed 2-3 beans in bottle, filled with vodka and let sit for 3 months, shaking every few days. BEST VANILLA EVER!! Can really tell the difference. I would suggest to your readers that they can then give the bottle with the vanilla beans in there. Cute labels like you have but also suggesting that if they refill the bottles with more vodka after half gone, these are good for 2-3 years. THEN the spent beans can be dried and mixed into white sugar for vanilla sugar. A gift that keeps on giving.

    This worked so well for me over the last 2 years that I am making them for friends and family after several requests. The biggest trick is to start them NOW. It needs the 3 months to develop the flavor. Oh, I also sent the bottle with beans only to my mother. Shipped really well and she only had to add the vodka.

  7. My store bought real vanilla extract has an expiration date. Do you know how long this homemade vanilla will be good?

    1. Theoretically, it should last forever because the alcohol will kill any bacteria that’s growing. You might need to add another bean now and then, but it shouldn’t go bad. That said, sometimes the manufacturer adds water, sugar, artificial coloring, etc., and those may shorten the life of your vanilla.

  8. I am so excited for this! I’ve been wanting to make homemade vanilla FOREVER! However, when I told my husband I would need to buy a bottle of liquor, he gave me *the look* – ha! So obviously I need to make a little shopping trip while he’s at work. 😉

  9. I’m pretty excited to try this now! I have made vanilla syrup (for coffee) before but never this. Two years ago a lot of my Christmas featured vodka based items (blueberry flavoured, plum pudding flavoured, vodka soaked berries…) so I am keen to try this for this Christmas. Something that I read online and have tested is that running your cheap vodka through a carbon filter (like a water filter jug) will greatly improve the flavour. Even though you are then adding flavouring I tend to buy the cheapest vodka I can and do this about three times first.

  10. the link for the bottles is for 4 oz bottles, not 2 oz… which is i think what yours are? 3.5 liters is 118 ounces, give or take, so i think 30 4 oz bottles is all you would need?

    i am very excited to try the rum version! i would have passed on it as i think rum tastes awful, but am going to give it a go now!

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