Baking Cake Without Vanilla Extract: Simple Hacks That Work

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Trying to build a cake without vanilla extract is a very hard task. I found this out the hard way when I had to bake my cake and was missing the sweet liquid know as vanilla extract. I had to think quickly as I already started making the batter. I had to step back and ask myself: How do I bake a cake without vanilla extract?

Use substitutes like maple syrup, almond extract, and alcohols like brandy or rum instead of vanilla extract. This will enhance the flavor of the cake. Use vanilla beans and alcohol to make your own vanilla extract. Scoop out the insides of the bean and place it into a glass container with alcohol.

That day I realized that trying to bake a cake without vanilla extract is hard but not impossible. I started digging into all my past baking knowledge as well as research to figure out what to do in this situation. Thinking quickly on my feet with all of my experience and research, I managed to come up with some great ways to solve this baking mystery of mine.

Importance Of Vanilla Extract When Baking A Cake

Vanilla extract is a staple ingredient that we use almost every time we bake a cake. If you find yourself with only a drop left in your bottle, silently huffing at yourself for forgetting to buy a fresh bottle, no need to panic!

I wanted to know if the vanilla extract was really necessary for the cake. Many items have great importance when baking a cake. Item in a recipe such as flour and sugar are significant in the cake baking process but just how important is vanilla compared to them?

Vanilla can be looked at as the salt of baking. When you’re cooking a savory dish, we add salt to elevate it; we don’t like eating bland food. Vanilla helps elevate flavors in your baking but surprisingly isn’t initially added for its vanilla flavor.

However, there can be many different flavor enhancers that’ll boost your sweet-tasting dessert as effectively as vanilla extract. If you want to skip over the vanilla extract in your recipe, you won’t be punished! The cake you bake without vanilla extract just won’t be as strong in flavor.

If you still want to use Regular Vanilla Extract after trying all of the methods above, I would suggest getting McCormick All Natural Pure Vanilla Extract. This is the best-tasting Vanilla Extract I have ever used for my baked goods. You can find it on Amazon here!

If you’re baking cakes that are flavored with citrus or chocolate, you won’t notice a major difference. If you’re baking a pound cake or a simple vanilla cake, there will be a major difference. But don’t fret, there’s always a solution to any baking resolve!

Substitute Vanilla Extract For Common House Ingredients

It’s no secret that almost every cake recipe we come across will have vanilla in it. For many years I never paid any attention to the purpose, I just followed a recipe and was always happy with my results. But then, the dreaded day had come when I opened up my cabinet and realized that I was out of the vanilla extract.

The 3 most common vanilla extract substitutes:

Maple SyrupBrandy or RumAlmond Extract
The Same Ratio of Maple Syrup to VanillaThe Same Ratio of Alcohol to VanillaHalf the Ratio of Almond Extract to Vanilla

A common substitute for vanilla that I use when the store is closed or I’m just too lazy to go is maple syrup. Surprisingly, the flavor isn’t vanilla but the strong sweetness of the maple syrup allows your cake batter to be enhanced in flavor.

When using maple syrup, use an equal amount that is stated in the recipe you are using. In other words, if the recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla, substitute with a teaspoon of maple syrup.

When I’m looking for some extra oomph in my cake batter, I use a neutral brandy or flavored rum. Don’t worry about the alcohol content as it will evaporate when you bake your cake in the oven. Alcohol, like brandy, is housed in barrels that contribute to the flavor of the alcohol.

*Disclaimer: This cake baking method should be used by adults over the age of 21 years.

A fun fact that I learned was that one flavor component that exists in oak barrels is vanillin which, (surprise, surprise!) gives the flavor of vanilla!

Vanillin is the chemical component that we find in imitation vanilla extract. So you if you want a more authentic and rich flavor in your cake, brandy or rum will be your savior! The ratio will be the same; use the same amount as stated in your recipe.

I’ve bought a bunch of extracts throughout the years but clearly, the vanilla extract is used up quicker than the others. By the time I use up a single bottle of almond extract, I could fill a whole football field with empty vanilla bottles! Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a little.

When I run out of vanilla extract and I don’t have the other two ingredients on hand, I just use almond extract! Since the vanilla extract is used as a flavor enhancer, the almond extract has the very same effect.

The major difference is its intensity. You can add it to your cake batter for a delicious and heavenly scented treat but be careful with how much you use. Use half of the amount required in your recipe so that the flavor of almonds does not overpower your cake. If your recipe calls for one teaspoon of vanilla extract, use half a teaspoon of almond extract.

*Side Note: You might also want to know how to Store Your Cake Batter The Right Way. I wrote an article about Storing Cake Batter The Right Way, which you can check out here!

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract!

If you want to opt-out of buying vanilla extract in the future, you can make your very own at home with just two simple ingredients! Actual pods of vanilla bean and vodka. If you read the labels on either side of your store-bought bottle of vanilla extract, you’ll always see a percent concentration of alcohol because it uses a similar method of making the extract.

Fun Fact

“Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla. The word vanilla, derived from vainilla, the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina, is translated simply as “little pod”.”


There are many reasons why you would want to make your own homemade vanilla extract. Whether it be for financial purposes or just for a genuine, high-quality product, making vanilla extract is a fun experiment everyone should try.

There is no secret that vanilla extract is expensive and has been increasing in price in the past few decades. Buying a few vanilla beans and a small bottle of vodka can make enough pure vanilla extract to last you a while as well as save lots of money in the long run.

There is nothing artificial that goes into this method; the final result is a bottle of pure vanilla extract. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Buy vanilla beans that are specifically labeled “Grade B”. These beans are used for extracting and can usually be found in the spice aisle of your local supermarket. If not, you can always look for options online.
  2. The preferred alcohol for the job is flavorless vodka. If you don’t have any access to vodka, you can use bourbon or rum (since they’ll have that wonderful hint of vanilla). Don’t go buying $100 bottles of fancy alcohol, that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve here. Shop smart!
  3. You’re going to need a glass jar with a tight seal. If the jar does not have a proper seal, the alcohol will eventually evaporate.
  4. Take 5 vanilla beans and slice them open lengthwise
  5. Scoop out the inside and place it into your glass container. DO NOT throw away the pods! The pods go into the jar as well. Cutting them open rather than leaving them whole will extract a lot more flavor.
  6. Pour about 1 cup (8 oz) into your jar.
  7. Store your jar in a cool, dark spot for at least 5 months to extract every bit of vanilla from your beans. Shake the jar gently once a week to prevent major settling.
  8. The longer you keep it in the jar, the more potent and delicious it is! You can extract the vanilla for up to 12 months!

No matter what reason you choose to make your own homemade vanilla extract, I promise you won’t regret it! The process might be long and tedious, but the outcome will be worth it.

I’ve made homemade vanilla extract a few times now and each time went better than the last. Don’t forget that this method needs some time and practice for a great tasting result.

*Side Note: If you ever wanted to know The Real Difference Between A Sponge Cake and A Butter Cake. I wrote an article about it that you can find here!

To Summarize…

While vanilla extract might be a staple in almost every cake recipe out there, I’ve proven today that there is a solution to every baking dilemma. Using the above-mentioned ingredients to substitute an important component such as vanilla extract was an outstanding achievement in my baking journey.

However, creating my own vanilla extract from the ground up has been the highlight of my year. Hopefully, these methods helped you solve your vanilla extract mystery.

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My name is Fainna! I've been baking desserts ever since I was 10 years old with my grandma passing her baking wisdom down to me with every passing day. I hope you find these tips and tricks helpful here at my little Baking Nook!

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