The Great Vanilla Debate

Decorating By HerBoudoir Updated 26 Jun 2008 , 8:51pm by Mamas

HerBoudoir Posted 20 Apr 2008 , 11:57pm
post #1 of 101

So I said I wasn't going to start it, but I'm a troublmaker in the best of conditions icon_biggrin.gif The IMBC thread is evolving into a vanilla thread so I figured I'd start one.

I'm primarily a scratch baker, and since I started "trading up" some of my ingredients, there's been an exponential increase in the quality of my baking IMHO. A big thing for me is high quality vanilla ~ there are, in my opinion, no substitutions....no supermarket brands, no imitation, nada.

For when vanilla is playing a supporting role, I like to use: Trader Joe's Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla. Well priced, great flavor.

For when vanilla is the primary flavor, I like to use: Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon. Expensive, but worth it. (You can actually buy 32 oz bottles of this online for about $40 for a better price-per-ounce than supermarket brand).

I've also tried the double strength vanilla from Pampered Chef, which I also liked very much.

~~~~~~~~~~

I went on a little buying spree the last 2 days with vanilla. Yesterday I stopped at a local gourmet store for some key lime juice, and ended up picking up a Nielsen-Massey Mexican Vanilla extract. Pricey ($12 for 4 oz), but I keep hearing things about how good Mexican Vanilla is. We shall see.

As it happens, the store had just started carrying Silver Cloud Estates brand extracts and flavorings, which I did not get....until lo and behold, at the MidAtlantic Cake Show today, SIlver Cloud had a table with open "sniffer" bottles of many of their products. I did buy a container of Vanilla Bean Paste, as I've been interested in trying that, but more importantly, I got a reasonably affordable half pound of some of the best vanilla beans I've ever seen.

Mwahahahaha...I will be attempting to make my own extract in the near future....

~~~~~~~~~~

Sooooo....thoughts? Favorites? Experiments? Do share icon_smile.gif

100 replies
melissablack Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:05am
post #2 of 101

The best vanilla I've ever had is some that my sister picked up for me in Mexico. I don't even know the brand, but it was a wine -sized bottle for 9$, and it smelled and tasted SOOOO good. I would have to open the bottle and just sniff it every time I walked by lol. It made such a difference in my baking...especially my icing. I haven't found anything even close icon_sad.gif ... I haven't tried ordering anything online yet though, just tried different stuff from the stores.

I'm also planning on making my own in the near future.

Melvira Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:13am
post #3 of 101

Fantastic information!! I'll be watching this one for advice on what to get! I'm a guilty user of the 'fake' vanilla... it's just easier and cheaper to get. icon_redface.gif But I want some Mexican vanilla! I haven't had any for a long time!

diamondsonblackvelvet13 Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:25am
post #4 of 101

A word of caution with SOME "cheaper" brands of Mexican Vanilla- I am not sure on the names or brands but a few have small amounts of lead in them. I saw this on local news not too long ago. Perhaps before buying, do a little research as to which ones not to get.

HerBoudoir Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:30am
post #5 of 101

I'd actually read somewhere that if you have to be careful what you buy in Mexico because their requirements for labeling things as "pure" and such are much more losely translated than in the States - i.e., it may say it's Mexican vanilla but it may also be mostly imitation - who knows.

But I think I'm in the clear with the Neilsen-Massey brand.

ceshell Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:52am
post #6 of 101

Neilsen-Massey is available at a great price at surfasonline.com...I can't remember when I last posted about this, it may have been lost in the crash, but the bottom line was a 32oz bottle of madagascar bourbon vanilla extract was only around $24, with shipping it was only around $30 (I happen to live near their store so shipping wasn't an issue)...it worked out to be LESS cost than the supermarket or even Trader Joe's vanilla - approx cost $1/oz. Wahoo! I couldn't believe that I could buy a 32oz bottle for $24 when a FOUR oz bottle is like $13 at Williams Sonoma. Sheesh!

Also somewhere around here (or...maybe not if it was a crashed post) is a great post explaining the possible problem with vanillas made in Mexico. Which is not necessarily the same as "Mexican Vanilla" if the latter was made from M. vanilla BEANS but not actually mfr'd there. Anyway the main risk was coumarin...there's some info about it here http://www.vanilla.com/html/facts-mexican.html .

Narie Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:59am
post #7 of 101

I love vanilla bean paste. However, I do save it for situations where vanilla is the primary flavor. I am also a fan of Mexican vanilla, it has a smoky or dark flavor. I love it in chocolate.
One warning- Mexican vanilla purchased outside of the US may be unsafe because some unscrupulous producers add coumarin (an irreversible blood thinner) from the tonka bean as a flavor enhancer. If the price is really inexpensive, you may be dealing with the adulterated stuff. Or even if not contaminated with coumarin it is more than likely synthetic. Concerning the price of Mexican vanilla-the good stuff isn't cheap.

jessfmaldonado Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 1:11am
post #8 of 101

I just bought some vanilla bean paste, I have no idea how to use it. Any suggestions??? ( I really should have thought of this before I bought it) hehe. icon_redface.gif

alliebear Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 1:25am
post #9 of 101

for things like chocolate cake and stuff where u cant taste vanilla... i dont waste my time i use the imitation stuff... honestly alot of people dont have the same palette as i do for detecting good flavor and stuff like that in dessert and if u can't taste the vanilla in it then theres no point is breaking the bank in using the best... is you run your own business you have to find ways to keep cost down and if you using expensive things like vanilla then theres all your profits gone. i prefer something cheaper.... i have tried every vanilla brand and even taste tested with people and no one could tell the difference. sure every now and then i will use "good" vanilla in frostings if its an all vanilla cake but when you have layers of fruit filling, chocolate etc... the vanilla flavors just kinda take a back seat to everything else...

peanut123 Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 10:20am
post #10 of 101

FYI â a lengthy discussion on the subject can be found at:

http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=29056&mode=linearplus

playingwithsugar Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 10:55am
post #11 of 101

I started making my own vanilla extract over 2 years ago. I had bought a large bottle at Sam's Club, thinking that it would last me through the entire baking season. Big mistake. I had never before seen a vanilla extract which I could actually see through while it was in the bottle. I had to add two vanilla beans to it, and allow it to sit for the year, before it had enough flavor to use.

I also discovered Ina Garten's recipe for vanilla extract. I use 105 proof vodka (the highest concentration allowed in PA) and made some, using 15 beans instead of 12. I also cut them open and scraped the seeds out, mixing them into the liquid. I allowed the bottle to sit in the darkest corner of the pantry, shaking it every two weeks, for a year. It was the best vanilla I ever used. The seeds show up in my light batters and in my icing, but I don't care. It's awesome in vanilla ice cream. Here's the link to the recipe.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/recipes/recipe/0,,FOOD_9936_21526,00.html

Please let me know how the products with vanilla bean paste turn out, and what ratio you use of paste as compared to what you would use in extract.

I have used vanilla powder from time to time, when I want to keep my icing white, but I have found that, even though they say to use it on a 1:1 ratio, a teaspoon of powder is definitely too much. After experimentation, I found that 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla powder, sifted into my sugar, is just per batch of SMBC.

Theresa icon_smile.gif

TrulyScrumptious852 Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 11:13am
post #12 of 101

There was an extensive thread on making vanilla extract on here:

http://forum.cakecentral.com/cake-decorating-ftopict-663.html

However, the technique is to use 3-5 vanilla beans compared to the recipe above using 12 vanilla beans for a bottle of vodka.

Why is there such a difference? Which one should I follow?

playingwithsugar Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 11:20am
post #13 of 101

It's all a matter of taste. I am a bit of a fan of The Barefoot Contessa, so that is the recipe I use, made a bit stronger by choice.

What you can do is start with the recipe with the smaller number of beans, make the recipe, and try it in a product. If the flavor is to your liking, then keep it that way. If not, just add more beans until you get a formula which works best for you. Just remember to write down your experiment, step by step, for future reference.

Heck, what's it going to cost you, but an occasional batch of chocolate chip cookies, and an inch or two on your hips?

Theresa icon_smile.gif

HerBoudoir Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 11:29am
post #14 of 101

The vanilla bean paste says to use 1 tablespoon of paste in place of a pod - I'll have to experiment a little bit. I can see a whole slew of vanilla cupcakes in my future LOL

Thanks for the link, peanut. There's a comment on there from someone using the scraped pods for homemade vanilla extract - I'll probably try that. Again from reading online, they recommend that you use a dark glass bottle for storing vanilla in, so I need to go on the hunt for such a thing. I've got a nearly-empty Starbucks liquor bottle that will fit the bill nicely I think. Apparently plastic is no good - the alcohol starts leeching chemicals out of the plastic over a period of time, and clear glass is no good because sunlight damages extract.

Homemade-Goodies Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 11:42am
post #15 of 101

No mention of what size bottle of Vodka to the 12 vanilla pods, can you speciify this for me?

Can't get anything but vanilla "aroma" here in Holland...been lucky to have friends and colleagues to bring me the real deal from US usually, but I'd like to make my own to see if I can forego troubling everyone else! icon_wink.gif

Beckalita Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 11:42am
post #16 of 101

I'd definitely be wary of vanilla bought in Mexico, because as others have said ~ their labeling laws are much more lax than here in the states. My mom got a large bottle labelled pure vanilla extract, thinking she had gotten a great bargain but I pointed out to her that if it were real vanilla extract it would be brown not clear.

playingwithsugar Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 11:45am
post #17 of 101

Are your measurements metric over there? A fifth of vodka here (what I use) is about 750 ml.

Theresa icon_smile.gif

HerBoudoir Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 11:46am
post #18 of 101
Quote:
Originally Posted by jessfmaldonado

I just bought some vanilla bean paste, I have no idea how to use it. Any suggestions??? ( I really should have thought of this before I bought it) hehe. icon_redface.gif




No - you shouldn't think about how you'll use it before you buy it icon_smile.gif

I buy all sorts of things that "look interesting" and then figure out later how I'm going to use them....sometimes it works out great (peach cake made with peach butter I got at the farmer's market), and sometimes not so much (lol ok we won't go there). But it's always fun experimenting!

vickymacd Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 11:52am
post #19 of 101

Well, I personally can't wait for a luncheon today as a friend of mine is brining me the vanilla from Mexico. I'll let you know what the label says as far as brand that she picked up and how it is. The last Mexican vanilla I got was so YUMMY that I still remember the scent of it! Maybe if there's a chance of lead in it, I'll use it for perfume instead!!!

HerBoudoir Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:02pm
post #20 of 101

If it's clear - it's definately not the real deal icon_smile.gif

Melvira Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:04pm
post #21 of 101
Quote:
Originally Posted by vickymacd

Maybe if there's a chance of lead in it, I'll use it for perfume instead!!!




Hahahaha!! That would be SO like one of us insane cakers to use pure vanilla as cologne!!

I have GOT to get some beans and make my own extract and sugar. I just love the thought of it and have always wanted to try it!!

HerBoudoir Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:11pm
post #22 of 101

Melvira,

I got mine from Silver Cloud Estates (.com) - beautiful beans, not at all like the dried up shriveled ones that my grocery store has. While $30 for a half pound seems like a lot, it's about 20 beans - the dried up shriveled ones are about $8 for 1 bean.

Melvira Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:16pm
post #23 of 101
Quote:
Originally Posted by HerBoudoir

Melvira,

I got mine from Silver Cloud Estates (.com) - beautiful beans, not at all like the dried up shriveled ones that my grocery store has. While $30 for a half pound seems like a lot, it's about 20 beans - the dried up shriveled ones are about $8 for 1 bean.




That doesn't sound like a bad price at all! What I've seen has always been expensive, and like you mentioned, they look old and tired!!

vickymacd Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:20pm
post #24 of 101

Okay, Melissa, you bring the bean and I'll bring the Vodka and we'll make ..... oh, vanilla extract seems so hard to make....let's just have a drink! Oh, wait, you can't drink. Okay, I'll let you know how the Vodka goes! And goes, and goes!

HerBoudoir Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:36pm
post #25 of 101

Hey! I want in on this party!

HerBoudoir Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:39pm
post #26 of 101
Quote:
Originally Posted by Melvira

Quote:
Originally Posted by HerBoudoir

Melvira,

I got mine from Silver Cloud Estates (.com) - beautiful beans, not at all like the dried up shriveled ones that my grocery store has. While $30 for a half pound seems like a lot, it's about 20 beans - the dried up shriveled ones are about $8 for 1 bean.



That doesn't sound like a bad price at all! What I've seen has always been expensive, and like you mentioned, they look old and tired!!




I know - I should have gotten the full pound. But he said they'll be fresh for about a year if stored properly (in as airtight a container as possible, stable room temperature, dark) and the half pound was what I thought I would reasonably use in that period of time....that was before I thought of storing them in vodka icon_wink.gif.

sjbeatty8 Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:48pm
post #27 of 101

A place that I found for wonderful vanilla is Penzey's... they have stores all over the US (but maybe only 1-2 in each state).. but they also have an online store (www.penzeys.com)...
You can get double and single strength vanilla and also a couple different kinds of beans.... I dont price things out much so I dont know how their prices compare to others but I think the prices are good and the products are worth it.
I also recommend their cake spice, vanilla sugar and cocoa. YUM.

vickymacd Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:49pm
post #28 of 101

Okay, party at Mel's!!

Melvira Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 12:58pm
post #29 of 101
Quote:
Originally Posted by vickymacd

Okay, party at Mel's!!




Hey, I won't be drink free forever! Eventually I'll be able to partake! THen we can certainly have a party at my place! icon_wink.gif Heck, we could do it now provided no one minds me sitting there sober, making fun of them as they get smashed! Hahaha!

Man, I checked out that site... (Silver Cloud) it looks awesome!! The beans are apparently huge, which is wonderful! And they have so many exotic things!! Anyone wanna give me their credit card? Hahahahah! I think I want more than I should spend right now!! Hey, I promise to not go over the credit limit!! (By much) icon_rolleyes.gif Now I've got to check out Penzeys!! *sigh* the last thing I needed right now was more stuff I want to buy! Hahahahah! But seriously, think how reasonable the extract would be if you make it yourself with those beans! Not bad!!

TejasRebel Posted 21 Apr 2008 , 1:17pm
post #30 of 101
Quote:
Originally Posted by sjbeatty8

A place that I found for wonderful vanilla is Penzey's... they have stores all over the US (but maybe only 1-2 in each state).. but they also have an online store (www.penzeys.com)...
You can get double and single strength vanilla and also a couple different kinds of beans.... I dont price things out much so I dont know how their prices compare to others but I think the prices are good and the products are worth it.
I also recommend their cake spice, vanilla sugar and cocoa. YUM.




Throwing my two cents into the ring for Penzey's vanilla. I've used Neillsen-Massey's vanilla and vanilla bean paste -- good stuff, but I keep coming back to the Penzey's double-strength vanilla. I use it almost exclusively these days and always get rave reviews! thumbs_up.gif

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