By Jennifer Magnesi

Pure vanilla extract is a pantry essential if you like to bake. In case you feel like whipping up a batch of cookies but don't have vanilla extract on hand, or if it's too expensive, there are a few convincing alternatives.

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Make your own extract from vanilla beans.

Imitation Vanilla Flavoring

Pure vanilla extract can be a bit pricey, so one of the most common substitutes is imitation vanilla flavoring. It has the same sweet flavor for about half the cost. As with vanilla extract, a small amount goes a long way. A typical baking recipe may require about 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring.

Maple Syrup

Many people keep maple syrup stocked in their kitchen, so it's a convenient alternative. It's much less expensive by volume and is easy to find in any grocery store. The taste is very similar to vanilla extract in pastries, and the consistency is similar to pure vanilla extract. Use the same amount as you would vanilla extract.

Brandy

It might seem odd to use liquor as a vanilla alternative, but the taste of brandy is not noticeably different from vanilla in baked goods or pastries. Either dilute the brandy or use just a fraction of the amount of vanilla the recipe calls for.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Making your own vanilla extract is a long process, but worth it in the long run. You just need vanilla beans and rum or vodka. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces. Store them in 3/4 cup rum or vodka and let sit for six weeks. The longer the beans marinate in the liquor, the stronger the vanilla extract flavor. When it's ready, use it as you would store-bought vanilla extract.