Judgement-Free Homemade Vanilla For All

I’m just getting around to sharing our gift for many of our friends and neighbors. While the holidays are over, I thought you might like to see it. I’d pinned the idea over the summer and finally made a batch in the Fall for holiday gifts.
If you already know how to make homemade vanilla, I’m about to add a few reasons to the list of why you should bother. If you haven’t yet stopped to ponder how vanilla is made, prepare for your mind to be blown. It’s so simple. Something we pay a bajillion dollars for at the grocery store (unless you go the imitation route) is actually ridiculously easy to make. There are no less than a thousand posts out there about it, but here’s the gist: alcohol + vanilla beans + bottle + time.  If you’re only making one, the cost savings is negligible. But if you’re making a few the cost for each one gets silly good. So good that you’d never think about using imitation vanilla to save money. And you’d be willing to make some to share.

Now, before we talk about the making, let’s talk about vanilla as a gift. How many people on your gift lists bake? Maybe a few, maybe a lot, but probably not everyone. Of the people who don’t bake, how many drink coffee? Or cocktails? Between baking, coffee, cocktails and straight up consumption, about 99% of my over-21 list is covered. And so I submit… Judgement-Free Homemade Vanilla. It’s not just for baking.

Before you can give Judgement-Free Homemade Vanilla, you’ve got to make it. As far as the alcohol component of mine, I used vodka. Purchased in bulk with a wee bit of guilt over the quantity. I desperately wanted to tell the guy at the counter that I’m not an alcoholic and that I was making Christmas gifts, but that guy probably hears way more interesting stories and doesn’t care what I had to say as long as the debit card worked.

I used vanilla beans from Beanilla. You can by beans at the grocery store but they’re pricey. Crafty friend Jen was putting together a bulk order for a group of crafty moms, and she and I split a 1/2 lb bag of Bourbon Vanilla beans for a lot less than it would cost locally.

My bottles came from Amazon. I was sure I wanted clear glass bottles and white tops, and bought 2 dozen of them. If you’ve saved empty bottles to upcycle you’re ahead of the game.

Assembly couldn’t be easier. I snipped the long beans in half and put three pieces in each bottle, poured the vodka on top and sealed it up to sit in the box for a while. How long is a while? Well, some people say 30 days, some people say 60, some say 90 +, and some I’ve read have said “I give it with a note that says wait 30 days to use it”. I say do whatever. It’s a gift. Do it whichever way works for you.

The longer it sits, the more caramelly the color.
I shook the bottle before taking this shot. All those little bean bits are yummy in whatever you’re making.

If you want to get fancy, you can print a few recipes to attach.

  • For bakers, this Potbelly sugar cookie clone.
  • For coffee drinkers this simple cinnamon vanilla yumminess.
  • For cocktail drinkers maybe one of these many options.
  • For an (almost) non-alcoholic option I’m digging this vanilla lemonade.

Lastly, you need a label. And this is really the point of my post. The label makes this a gift that doesn’t say “you should bake something”, ’cause even bakers don’t always feel up to baking. Instead, the label says, more or less, “Happy Holidays, however you plan on indulging.” It doesn’t, however, offer any holding back of the hair. You’re on your own there. We’re just saying we won’t judge.*

You can download a PDF of the labels here. They print at roughly 3″ x 4″, but you could easily size it down a little for smaller bottles. I chose to use a sticker maker to make the labels sticky solely because it’s fun and I had one available, but you can also print on sticker paper. Or print on card stock and tie them on with baker’s twine, embroidery floss, yarn or ribbon. You get the idea.

*unless you use imitation vanilla, which is a byproduct of the paper industry or is derived from coal tar. I wish I was kidding.


    • Anonymous says

      . . . or Australia, or New Zealand, or South Africa, or Ireland , or Jamaica (and other Caribbean nations), or Singapore, or India . . . (and by “from England”, I will assume you also meant as included “from Wales” and “from Scotland”): All English-speaking countries that use British spelling!

  1. says

    no way! first of all i never knew it was that easy to make. and yes that stuff costs a fortune in the stores. i think it is always on my list to buy. i guess i better go buy some vodka this weekend…maybe i will drink it while making some vanilla. just dont judge me:) thanks for sharing

  2. says

    I just ordered my beans! I have been wanting to do this forever! Thx for the inspiration! And I got free shipping ……it said free shipping on all beans for a limited time ;). Sweet!

  3. says

    LOVE THIS!! We go through a lot of vanilla extract, though always for baking (not anymore??) haha! Now I need a bulk order of vanilla beans – didn’t know you could get those!

  4. says

    A few weeks ago, my son was asking about how vanilla was made, so I showed him a crusty dried-out (year-old) bean from my spice cabinet. I then explained to him how if you mix the bean with alcohol, it makes vanilla extract. Of course, he wanted to make some IMMEDIATELY! Fortunately, I had five brand new, fresh vanilla beans from Costco, and vodka for painting on cakes. We used a half-pint mason jar, since that what I had on hand. He’s SO excited about it! (Oh, and I filled a pint mason jar with sugar and put the dried-out crusty vanilla bean [after cutting and splitting] in that to make vanilla sugar.) I think I might find some jars this year and finally make extract as Christmas gifts this year.

    • says

      If you mix a little bit of paste or gel food coloring with vodka, you can use it to paint on fondant. The alcohol evaporates before the cake is eaten, so it’s safe for the young ‘uns. :o) I’d link you to my blog with photos, but I stopped blogging years ago. ;oP

      Also, my son was so excited to see how brown the vanilla liquid in the jar has become. He’s a boy, so he, of course, made some gross poo comment about it. I love boys.

  5. says

    I saw a recipe for this a couple of months ago and thought, “Wow! I never knew. I should really make some for my family” (And then I forgot to do it, Ha! Ha!) Thank you so much for the reminder, Susan. My kids are gonna love the process.

  6. says

    Now, how do you make extract of… LLAMA!
    Ignore me, I have my crazy pants on. It’s friday night and all the kids are sleeping and none of them are crying. That’s a party. I’m all sorts of animal.

    Actually if I was going to make these I would probably label them as extract of llama just for kicks. Only for my close friends who know I’m a nutter, though, not for the neighbours who only suspect it.

  7. says

    I am emailing you. I SERIOUSLY (yes, all caps required) thought you purchased that vanilla – with the coolest label ever . Then, I read the entire post and was blown away.

    Next business idea coming up!



  8. Jen says

    Just ordered beans and bottles to make some for myself, my Mom and my Mother-In-Law. I have wanted to do this forever and the free shipping on beans is a bonus! My kids will like the science experiment aspect of it as well. I see a Costco run for vodka in my near future. ( :

    • says

      I live in Maryland, where we have to make a separate trip to the liquor store for liquor, beer or wine. I know that recipients are thinking “wow, she had to go the EXTRA STEP of going to the liquor store.” Yes, I’m sure that’s what they’re thinking, along with how much I must love them for doing *all* that work… (What I’m saying is, I’m totally jealous of vodka at Costco!)

  9. says

    I’ve been wanting to do this for Christmas presents for a few years but, i never remember until November and it’s too late. I guess I should just go ahead and make it now for next year, it only gets better with age. Oh just thought you’d like to know your vanilla will last longer if you use amber bottles, UV isn’t good for it.

    • says

      Yes, go ahead and make it! I love the clear glass because I want to see the color of the vanilla. It’s a fun science experiment. Not too worried about the shelf life for two reasons: 1) we use it up and 2) we keep it in a cabinet with the door closed. Not much light exposure.

  10. says

    Thank you for this post, I just ordered my beans. I’ve been wanting to have real vanilla beans on hand for ages (since watching Good Eats episode) and finally was able to order them. Will definitely be making extract & lots of other goodies.

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