Homemade extracts and copy-cat Milano cookies

Last year when I contributed for the Tropical Pack for the first time, I was so excited! Vanilla beans! It would be my first experience with them. Once I got them, I was a little bewildered… Vanilla beans are fun and exotic, but WHAT ON EARTH would I do with them?!!! I assure you, I found much to do with my vanilla beans! My friend Google once again came to the rescue. And I began my adventure with extracts. A little history first.

I bake a lot with vanilla, and real vanilla is expensive. So I would often purchase the imitation vanilla flavor. Here are the ingredients to the imitation vanilla I used: Water, propylene glycol, vanillin, caramel color, 0.1% sodium bensoate (added as a preservative), ethyl vanillin. In lay-mans terms, imitation vanilla extract is a wood by-product usually made by soaking alcohol into wood which contains vanillin. The vanillin is then chemically treated to mimic the taste of natural vanilla. Ethyl vanillin is made from coal tar.


Just what I want to put into my body.

Within a few clicks of the mouse and strokes on the keyboard, I discovered that homemade vanilla is incredibly simple to make. And the flavor is incredible. And I KNOW what goes in it. The most difficult part was getting the Vodka. You see, we are teetotalers in my family. And extracts use alcohol. So, I made my husband pick it up. Our first attempt we made a mistake. We bought 100 proof vodka. We have since learned that you should use 80 proof vodka for extracts.


Vanilla extract (and citrus extracts)


  • Vodka or other unflavored alcohol, 80 proof. Cheap is fine!
  • Vanilla beans (at least 3 per cup of alcohol)
  • A container to store the extract in, preferably dark glass. Clear glass works fine, however. I use a mason jar.


  1. Cut the beans lengthwise in half. Chop them smaller if needed.
  2. Put the beans into the container.
  3. Pour the alcohol into the container over the beans.
  4. Put a lid on the container.
  5. Shake.
  6. Store in a dark cupboard, and shake every few days.
  7. Watch the color of the extract get darker and darker and darker.
  8. Repeat the last two steps for two months.
  9. Once the scent of Vanilla permeates, and the color is a deep, rich brown, it is ready to use.


*To make a citrus extract, wash the citrus fruit thoroughly. Then you will zest the citrus-- think one orange per cup of alcohol-- and add to the alcohol. After a few months, you can strain the zest out of the alcohol, but it is unnecessary.

One of the wonderful things about making your own vanilla is that as you use it, you can top off the extract with more alcohol and you will have a continuous supply for a long time. You can add more beans as you desire, as well. The more beans, the stronger the vanilla. The longer it sits, the stronger the vanilla. AND you know you’re not putting something horrible in your body!

For more information on some other extracts, here is a great resource!

Good time to Extract

Homemade Milano Cookies

Now that I’ve made my extracts, I thought I might try something fun with them!

Homemade Milano Cookies

Milano cookies


  • Cookie:
  • 12 tablespoons (170grams/ 6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups (312.5 grams/ 11.02 oz) powdered sugar
  • 7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons lemon extract
  • 1 1/2 cups (187.5grams/ 6.61 oz) all purpose flour (I used rice flour mix, with 1/2 t xanthan gum)
  • Cookie filling, recipe follows
  • Cookie filling:
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used dark chocolate)
  • 1 orange, zested (I used 1 T triple sec)


  1. In a mixer with paddle attachment cream the butter and the sugar.
  2. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts.
  3. Add the flour and mix until just well mixed.
  4. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread.
  5. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
  6. While waiting for the cookies to cool, in a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream.
  7. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl, whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well.
  8. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools).
  9. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top.
  10. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.

These cookies are best eaten right away, as they do get a little softer as they sit. That being said, they are still delicious!

One Comment

  1. I have been making my own vanilla for years! There’s no need for another container–I just put the vanilla beans right in the vodka bottle. 3 beans in a liter of vodka is plenty. I have also found that vanilla makes a great holiday gift–put it in small bottles, add a label and a bit of ribbon, and you’re set.

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