Is Vanilla, Just Vanilla, No Matter The Cost?

Baking By JPMitchell Updated 18 May 2011 , 4:30am by Evoir

JPMitchell Posted 17 May 2011 , 4:27am
post #1 of 7

As I was strolling around different online cake communities, I started to yearn for the answer to this question: Does it matter what type vanilla extract you use in your cake recipes?
I found a cake ingredient excel sheet on CC and was listing out my cost vs. profit and what extras I could afford to add or scrimp. I came to the vanilla and I usually use a pure extract that is on the lower end of the price range and started looking at amazon's Nielsen-Massey 32 oz. Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract. Of course, it is way more than what I pay now at $33 for a 32 oz. bottle.

http://www.cooksillustrated.com/tastetests/overview.asp?docid=18889
I found a link that talks about the differences in the extracts, however, I am not enrolled in their website and cannot see the results. I did get a little description from a forum that housed this link, and it pretty much states that the extract is baked out. But that brings me to my next question: Would you use this expensive vanilla extract in buttercream, whip cream, and all other icings; then use an imitation while baking? If I used it in my icing recipes it looks as though I'm only adding $0.20 to the cost (Which, I think is not bad at all).

6 replies
Chonte Posted 17 May 2011 , 5:41am
post #2 of 7

im glad you asked this because i was wondering the same thing! i have some pure vanilla extract, imitation vanilla extract and some imitation vanilla flavor, what the heck is the real difference?

scp1127 Posted 17 May 2011 , 6:02am
post #3 of 7

What vanilla you use depends on your customer. I am an artisan baker and only use the finest ingredients. I use NM vanilla bean paste and my own extract made with the right beans and Grey Goose vodka. But all of my ingredients are expensive. Many of my 8 and 9 inch cakes have well over $20.00 in ingredients alone. But I cater to an upper income market who appreciate fine things, including dessert.

All vanilla extract by law is 35% alcohol, or 70 proof. The quality of the bean is different among brands. Yes, alcohol in the extract does cook out to a degree, but the lasting taste is discernible and will be a reflection of the quality. Remember, the extract only had 35% alcohol, so part of the alcohol is gone, and that will take away some of the flavor. VB paste does not cook out because there is very little alcohol in the product. It will bring all of your baking to a higher level, but the cost is high, especially if you are heavy-handed like I am.

Someone will get mad at this, but if you are using box mixes and are selling a lower priced cake, the fine vanilla will still have a pronounced flavor. But fine vanilla defeats the purpose of trying to have a lower end product. In other words, use the vanilla that best matches the value of your other ingredients if you want to cut costs. Baking styles come in all ranges... from off-brand box mixes to fine pastries baked by chefs who are top in this field. You just need to find your niche.

You are correct in using the good stuff in frostings and custards. And always add it in the end of anything cooked to avoid the evaporation.

Many bakeries use only immitation. Again, it is a matter of how you want your final product to taste and to cost.

I am a member of Cook's Illustrated. I'll look it up.

hollyml Posted 17 May 2011 , 6:04am
post #4 of 7

There is a real and very noticeable taste difference between real or "pure" vanilla extract vs. imitation vanilla flavoring (aka "vanillin"). It's like the difference between real maple syrup vs. imitation maple-flavored pancake syrup. Some people are perfectly happy with the imitation, but you can definitely taste the difference.

But I can't say I've ever noticed any difference between brands of vanilla. Not that I've ever tried anything especially pricey, which at a guess would involve soaking the vanilla bean in a higher-quality type of alcohol? But regular store-brand real vanilla has always worked fine for me whether it's in batter or frosting.

Holly

Evoir Posted 17 May 2011 , 6:07am
post #5 of 7

In a nutshell, its the flavour. There are far superior aromatics and taste profiles with the better quality vanilla products. I have taken to making my own vanilla essences using different beans and clear vodka. So far, the difference is amazing - much like adding a fresh vanilla bean to your baking!

However, bottom line is important and to this you need to assess the relative benefits of adding a high-quality vanilla essence to your cakes, if your cakes are say, a child's birthday cake, or a very strongly (other flavoured) filling or icing or cake ingredient is being used. But if you sell gourmet scratch cakes and your business is selling cakes that stand apart from other cakes on the market, then yes, it is wise to use premium products, because you also charge more and so you do not end up out-of-pocket.

sunset74 Posted 17 May 2011 , 7:01am
post #6 of 7

I also use the NM Vanilla Bean Paste. Personally I would cry once and have great desserts later. The ONLY other Vanilla I will use is Penzey's. I paid the amazon price of 42 dollars for a 32 ounch bottle, but when you figure each 4 ounch bottle is 11 to 13 a bottle I am getting like 4 bottles free. I would spend it in a heart beat. When I got my first bottle of bean paste I had used it in a few things and was getting ready to do a bunch of cookies for my niece and so instead of using my good vanilla I thought I would get the cheap tones 5 dollars for 16 ounces of 100 percent pure vanilla at Sam's. Kids don't need this liquid gold. Well I opened it, smelled it and poured it down the drain. I would not have fed that nasty stuff to my worst enemy. I suggest if you can find a bottle of Neilsen Massey in your area, get a small one and try it compared to your cheap store brand and see the difference for yourself. For me it was REALLY noticeble in a basic sugar cookie and my niece now tells me I make the BEST sugar cookies, and I am going up against a bakery in her town that has been there since I was a kid and was one of my FAVORITE bakeries of all time. And my cookies are now better then theirs...YAY!!! I say buy small and try it, then if you love it go big. That is what I did and I won't be going back.

Evoir Posted 18 May 2011 , 4:30am
post #7 of 7
Quote:
Originally Posted by scp1127

Someone will get mad at this, but if you are using box mixes and are selling a lower priced cake, the fine vanilla will still have a pronounced flavor. But fine vanilla defeats the purpose of trying to have a lower end product. In other words, use the vanilla that best matches the value of your other ingredients if you want to cut costs. Baking styles come in all ranges... from off-brand box mixes to fine pastries baked by chefs who are top in this field. You just need to find your niche.





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