Wednesday, 2 December 2009


Homemade Vanilla Extract is the ultimate culinary act of recycling.  In my home, none of those expensive vanilla beans go to waste.  I use real vanilla beans in various ways.  The whole bean is split and scraped of its seeds for custards and is used in my baking.  The empty seed pods are sometimes ground up finely with sugar to add gorgeous speck of vanilla flavour to cookie doughs, and if I'm not making cookies that day, the empty pods are simply submerged in a huge bottle of vodka where I have been soaking other used vanilla pods.  I sometimes even put a few whole split pods in the vodka bottle, seeds and all, to give it an extra vanilla boost.  Reader, you must join me in my duty to spread the vanilla love so continue the jump for some cool ideas.

With a bunch of vanilla beans purchased online in bulk, you can do so many delicious things.

Vanilla Sugar:  Empty vanilla pods are placed in a container of sugar to infuse a heady vanilla fragrance and flavour into the sugar.  You can package the vanilla sugar into pretty glass containers for Christmas gifts.  Alternately, you can finely grind the empty pods with a little sugar (I use my Bullet) and then gently and thorougly handmix that in with a larger container of sugar.  You will in this case, get vanilla-speckled sugar.
  • Vanilla Sugar can be used in baking, in place of regular sugar
  •  as a flavoured sugar for your tea (don't used the speckled sugar for beverages)
  • or coffee
  •  and is beautiful in glass containers for gifting.
Vanilla Beverages:  Dry your used and cleaned beans in a low oven.  Grind them and add them to:
  • coffee beans for Vanilla Coffee
  • whole tea leaves for Vanilla Tea
  • beautiful homemade tea bags:  a tablespoon of the Vanilla Tea Leaves wrapped in a square of double-layered cheesecloth that is tied with thin twine and decorated with a paper label at the end of the twine
Vanilla Butter Cookies:  See my recipe here for a nifty way to employ entire vanilla beans for delicious Christmas Cookies that will have you craving more!
Buttercream & Custards: Use the vanilla sugar for use in buttercreams, custards, cheesecakes and ice cream

Vanilla Extract:  After several months of infusing your vodka with empty vanilla pods, you will have created vanilla extract.  The more often you bake and use vanilla beans, the stronger your extract and the quicker you'll attain an extract ready for use.  I have a bottle of vodka that is perpetually being topped up with new vodka and replenished with vanilla pods as the years pass by.  When my extract looks and smells ready, I decant the liquid--just what I need--into a smaller glass container for everyday use.  The rest of the extract stays in the larger bottle until I require it.  The large bottle of vodka and infusing pods is left in a cool dark place to age.  It is quite easy to maintain your vodka supply as all you need to do is toss your empty vanilla pods as you use them into the bottle of vodka. 
  • If you're gifting vanilla extract, you can purchase small lidded glass bottles from the dollar store, make your own labels or pretty it up by etching the glass with whatever design you wish.

My large vanilla infusing bottle is simply a recycled and sterilized bottle that was originally a French Lemonade container (from Whole Foods).  The lid is rubber-sealed and tight.

My vanilla beans were purchased online from and I purchased 2 different varieties of vanilla.  The beans in the picture above are Tahitian.   The possibilities are endless.  Tell me what you come up with and link back to my post so we can all share in the vanilla love!


Y said...

I've been meaning to make my own extract for SO long, but keep forgetting to. Thanks for the reminder! :D

Mélanie said...

I started my vanilla extract about 1 month ago too! I usually don't use extract but only beans, however if it's homemade, I will change my mind! And it's true that it's very easy...

Pity said...

i alo make my vanilla extract, i have had my botle for years and keep on topping it as you said, its a wonderful gift as well, excellent post, cheers from london

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across your blog today
(looking for an awesome chocolate cake recipe I can apply and alter for an Irish Whiskey Cake I'm conjuring up) and clicked into the blog on vanilla extract to see if you had any advice on producing awesome extract. So, I have three questions I've been meaning to have answered for awhile now, and you seem quite credible :) First, does the quality of vodka play a part in the overall quality of the extract? I usually just buy the cheapest thing I can find (being a starving college student and all).
Second part to this question concerns the substance the vodka is made from: grain, rye, wheat, potatoes, or sugar beet molasses. Will the vodka produced from one of these produce a higher quality extract? Are any of them a bad choice? I buy potatoe vodka becuase it's the cheapest, but it's said to be the smoothest type of vodka which I thought would have a positive effect on the extract. And the last Q: my husband and I purchased raw vanilla bean powder (it's just the seeds from the pod), but lately I've been wondering if we should go back to using the whole pods. Is there something in the pods (that isn't in the seed) that will produce a better extract?
Thanx for your time! ~ Kimi

Cakebrain said...

Glad you found my blog useful! I have never used Vanilla powder so I can't really comment on it too much. I like using the vanilla pods because nothing goes to waste in this house. I use the outer pods for vanilla sugar and to make extract while the inner sticky seeds are used for baking.
To answer your questions (and no, I'm not an expert! I'm a well-read English teacher!)
1.) The quality of the vodka would probably not really affect the quality of the extract. The fact that you're using vodka is so that the alcohol is flavourless and it's used primarily as a carrier for the pure vanilla flavour. That being said, I'm assuming you're not "drinking" the extract! :P
The alcohol will mostly dissipate when you bake or cook with it.
2) I think your second question is related to your first one. If the vodka is indeed flavourless, it should be better for the making of your vanilla extract. Whichever cheapest vodka you purchase that is the most flavourless, should be best. Remember, you're not drinking the extract.
3.) I think the vanilla powder is probably more expensive to use than the whole vanilla pods because it's been processed and you're paying for that. After you finish using up your vanilla powder, buy whole pods instead. Get the cheapest bulk vanilla pods online and use that. You'll save in the longrun because you can use it in so many other ways. The whole point of my using pods is so I can create extract from the leftover outer pods after I've scraped the inner sticky seeds out for baking. No waste! Hope that answers your questions!

Apple said...

Oh wow! I've just been scrolling through your old blog posts and came across this one. Making your own vanilla extract. I can't believe I'd never thought of that. I'm out to buy a bottle of vodka!
Thanks for the great idea! And your posts are wonderful!


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