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Food & Recipes

Out of Vanilla Extract? Check Your Liquor Cabinet For the Perfect Substitute

A simple boozy swap will taste just as sweet.


The relaxing joy of baking can quickly turn into frustration when you realize you’ve run out of a crucial ingredient. Staring down an empty bottle of vanilla extract while elbow-deep in your favorite cookie recipe might just send you into an emotional spiral — but you should check your liquor cabinet before giving into a confectionery conniption. 

According to the experts at Food52, simply swapping in amber-hued alcohols with “distinct personality” like bourbon or dark rum (think sweet, not smoky) for vanilla extract will do the trick. You might need to double the amount — 2 tsp. rum versus 1 tsp. vanilla — but that can vary depending on the type of liquor you’re using or how much you want the flavor to come through after baking it. Basically, if you want more of the liquor taste in your finished baked good, go ahead and double up.

If you’re worried your bakes will taste a little too boozy with the liquor swap, you can reduce larger amounts down by heating them up in the microwave before adding to your recipe. Cook’s Illustrated says to zap 1/4 cup of bourbon down to 2 Tbsp. to take the flavor down a notch. Try heating it in 30 second intervals until it’s concentrated to the amount you need. 

Not a big bourbon or rum drinker (or ran out of those, too)? Your liquor stash can still come in handy if you have a couple cups of vodka to spare. You’ll also need to snag at least 10 vanilla bean pods ($24.99, Walmart) to soak in the alcohol to make your own homemade extract. 

Real Simple recommends slicing the pods, plopping them into a Mason jar with the vodka, closing the lid but not too tight, then putting that into an Instant Pot on manual for 30 minutes to seal the jar fully. Once it’s done and you’ve safely released the pressure, wait for the extract to cool down before using. Don’t bother with straining the beans out of the jar, as they’ll keep giving off flavor while stored away in your cupboard.

And if none of those options appeal to you, there’s a good chance you can just skip the extract entirely and still have a quality baked good come out of the oven. Cook’s Illustrated claims that this works best in recipes like cake and cookies, but not for others like pudding where the vanilla flavor is more essential to the overall taste. 

Whichever way you go, we’re sure you’ll be able to whip up some seriously yummy treats!

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