Make It Yourself: Pure Vanilla Extract

Many moons ago, I lived in Russia.  Many people there are barely eating, so it’s no surprise that there’s not a huge market for luxury food items like vanilla extract.  I learned to live without it.

Living in the US, I could only occasionally force myself to fork over $5 (or more) for a little itty bitty bottle of the real stuff.

The Germans bake with vanille (real) or vanillin (fake) sugar instead of liquid vanilla extract.  The vanille stuff is expensive, and I went back to doing without.

Although it’s over now, the holiday season is big baking time for Germans.  Aldi and Lidl sell ingredients like maple syrup, cocoa powder, and baking chocolate for only a few weeks.  In December, I stumbled upon vanilla beans, two for 99 euro cents.  I wasn’t really sure what to do with them, but I knew I had seen umpteen recipes using said beans on Joy the Baker.

I bought four beans.

And then I googled.

And stumbled upon something that will change my baking habits forever.

You can make your own vanilla extract with vanilla beans and vodka… AND as long as you keep topping off the bottle with more vodka once the beans are exposed, it will last for years.  


I don’t know if I’m going to be able to leave my vanilla in Germany when we move back to the US.  It will be, like, totally vintage.

So, let’s get some homemade pure vanilla extract brewing in your kitchen.  Buy some vanilla beans.  I started with four, but you can start with more if that tickles your fancy.  If you start with less, your extract may not be as potent.

Buy some vodka.  I am not a vodka drinker, but I hear the same rule applies here as it does to wine.  Don’t cook – or bake – with anything you wouldn’t drink (if you did).  I think my bottle cost around 5 euros.

Vanilla beans & vodka.. so simple.

Take each vanilla bean, and split it down the middle, leaving 1/”4 to 1/2″ intact on both ends.  This will infuse all the vanilla-y goodness into the alcohol.

Split beans smell heavenly.

Drop the beans into the vodka.  Seal the top.  Shake a bit.

Vanilla beans meeting vodka for the first time.

Shake every day for the first week.  I lost interest after that, and shook only once a week for the next 6 weeks.

1 week

2 weeks

3 weeks

Once you get to week 3, open up the bottle after shaking and inhale.  Delicious.

4 weeks

5 weeks

6 weeks

After 6 weeks, your pure vanilla extract is ready to use!  You can use it before then, but it won’t be as strong.

When the vodka drops below the beans, top it off.  If you leave the beans exposed, they will dry out.  You can also switch out your beans with fresh ones, and use the old beans to make vanilla sugar.  Just bury the bean in several cups of white sugar, and let it sit for a few weeks.


10 thoughts on “Make It Yourself: Pure Vanilla Extract

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