Vanilla extract is used in a multitude of popular desserts and baked goods. This fragrant flavoring is a must in a lot of traditional recipes, so what should you do if you find yourself fresh out of vanilla? Can you bake without it?
You can bake without vanilla extract. Vanilla extract is used to enhance flavors within a recipe and therefore isn’t necessary for your recipe to bake properly. However, not using vanilla will result in a diminished flavor in your baked goods, so you should consider using a substitute.
In the rest of this article, I will discuss whether vanilla extract can be omitted from some of your favorite recipes, the most popular substitutes, whether you should use imitation vanilla, and how to make your own vanilla extract. So, if you’d like to learn more about what to do when you are out of vanilla, be sure to keep reading for the answer.
Is Vanilla Extract Necessary?
Vanilla extract is one of those common cooking items that you always feel like you have lying in your pantry somewhere. However, because it’s not always used daily, it can easily get lost or not put on the shopping list when it runs out. This is why sometimes it’s important to understand if you can get away without using vanilla extract in a pinch.
Vanilla extract is not necessary since it’s not a fundamental ingredient in the baking process. Vanillas’ primary function in baking is to add flavor. Luckily there are other ways to add similar flavors if you don’t have any vanilla on hand or just don’t like the taste.
As you can see, you don’t have to add vanilla to your recipe. It won’t ruin the dish but it can alter the flavor. Depending on what you’re baking you might not notice its absence at all, but in desserts that center on a vanilla flavor, it will be more noticeable.
Substitutes for Vanilla Extract in Baking
Next, I would like to talk about some of the most popular substitutes used for vanilla extract when baking. As I previously mentioned, vanilla extract isn’t integral to your dishes’ baking success. However, vanilla can play an essential role in the flavor profile, which is why using a substitute is always a good idea.
Some of the best vanilla extract alternatives include:
- Maple syrup: This substitute is by far my favorite as it best mimics the complicated natural flavors of vanilla extract. Plus when it’s baked into a dessert it’s harder to detect the difference. Just make sure you’re using the real stuff when replacing your vanilla with maple syrup.
- Honey: This delicious golden goo is the perfect substitute if you’re looking to replace vanilla in a recipe in a pinch. Plus, most households have honey readily on hand. Honey will not perfectly mirror the taste of vanilla but it will add a nice sweet flavor to whatever you’re baking.
- Almond extract: You can always use a little almond extract if you happen to have some in your pantry. Almond extract is able to bring a deep nutty flavor to your baked goods and can help mask the lack of vanilla in your recipe.
- Vanilla powder: If you don’t have any vanilla extract on hand, chances are you don’t have the powder either. However, in the off chance that you do, this is one of the best substitutes if you still want a rich vanilla flavor in your baking.
- Vanilla paste: Just like the powder, the vanilla paste will perfectly provide a delicious vanilla sweetness to your baked goods. Using paste is just as effective using as the extract (if not more), provided you have some laying around your kitchen.
- Vanilla nut milk: Another great way to infuse the vanilla flavor into your baking without using vanilla extract is to use vanilla-flavored nut milk. Almond or coconut milk will work best. If you use these be sure to replace the milk or water portion of your recipe with this milk so your baked goods don’t become too moist.
- Citrus zest: Another option that will help mask the lack of vanilla in your baking is citrus. By using the citrus zest from lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits you will be able to still obtain a bright sweet flavor in your dessert.
- Liquor: You can certainly use liquor to substitute your vanilla extract. After all, most vanilla extracts use liquor to bring out the vanilla beans’ intense flavor. The best liquors for this include bourbon, brandy, or rum.
- Spices: Since vanilla’s primary purpose is to enhance flavor, it only makes sense to combat its lack with more flavor. Using spices like cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg can easily add flavor to your baking goods without anyone having to miss the vanilla’s presence.
- Instant coffee: Another way to add deep flavors to your baking to aid the lack of vanilla presence is to use some instant coffee. When using coffee you will only want to add a little as its flavor can quickly overpower a dish.
- Espresso powder: If you happen to have access to espresso, it can be an excellent substitute. As with instant coffee, you should use caution and only add a small amount.
- Chocolate: Another easy substitute is to use chocolate. Now, this substitute will not taste like vanilla extract but it can draw attention to a new and loved flavor. Depending on the dish chocolate will make an excellent addition and you won’t even miss the taste of vanilla.
- Other extracts: Vanilla isn’t the only extract that is great at enhancing flavors in baking. If you happen to have lemon or orange extracts, these citrus extracts do an excellent job at enhancing baked goods’ flavor profile as well. Some people will even use peppermint extract in vanilla’s place. However, this extract will drastically alter the flavor so be careful.
- Nothing: As I previously stated, vanilla extract isn’t necessary, and depending on the other ingredients in your dish, it may not even be adding much to the flavor. For example, if you are making banana bread, some recipes call for vanilla extract while others do not.
Simply use your best judgment when it comes to selecting a vanilla extract substitute for your baked goods. Each dish will have a different flavor profile and you will want to match that flavor as closely as possible using ingredients that will fit well into your dish.
Can I Use Imitation Vanilla?
If you are looking through your cupboards and happen across imitation vanilla you might be wondering how this substitute can affect your dessert’s flavor. Imitation vanilla is more commonly available in stores and far cheaper so there is a good chance you may own some. So can you use imitation vanilla in place of the real thing?
You can use imitation vanilla. This extract is a decent substitute if you can’t find or don’t wish to pay the high prices for real vanilla extract. The difference between the two is that imitation vanilla is made using artificial flavorings while real extract uses vanilla beans and liquor.
As I previously mentioned, Imitation vanilla is more readily available in stores coming at a significantly lower price point, and ultimately is an okay substitute if you are simply looking to capture the flavor of vanilla in your dish. However, with real vanilla, you will also be getting all the natural vitamins and minerals that come from the pods.
Can I Make My Own Vanilla Extract?
Purchasing vanilla can certainly bring down your mood as real vanilla prices are quite high. Plus, more often than not, stores carry imitation vanilla while marketing the product as the real thing and it can be tough to tell the difference. So you might be wondering if you can make your own vanilla extract and what it will take.
You can make your own vanilla extract. Making your own vanilla extract is much cheaper than purchasing store-bought and can be done relatively easily. However, it can take 6-12 months for your vanilla extract to be ready for use.
So, as you can see you can always make your own vanilla extract. However, you will want to make the extract months ahead of time as it takes a while for the flavors to fully infuse into a delicious extract. On the other hand, once you have started your own extract you will have homemade vanilla for months to come.
How To Make Your Own Vanilla Extract
Finally, if you have always wanted to learn how to make your own vanilla extract, you’re in the right place. Making this extract is pretty simple as it doesn’t require a whole lot of ingredients. The most difficult part of this recipe is waiting for the vanilla extract to become ready to use.
What you will need:
- A sterile glass jar or bottle with an airtight lid
- A sharp knife
- Vodka or liquor of your choice
- Grade B Vanilla beans
If you’re having a difficult time finding vanilla beans I recommend Native Vanilla’s Tahitian Vanilla Beans (available on Amazon.com). These awesome beans come in a 10-pack and grade B which means they are specifically grown to be used in cooking and made into vanilla extract.
How to make vanilla extract:
- Boil your jar or bottle before use. You will want to make sure that your vessel is free of all bacteria that will ruin your vanilla extract. By boiling the jar or bottle you can ensure that most germs and bacteria have died.
- Double-check that you have purchased the correct vanilla beans. Not all beans are food grade and you should triple-check that your package says grade B. Grade B beans are specifically meant to be used in vanilla extracts.
- Select your liquor of choice. Be sure that you use one that doesn’t have an added flavor as this will affect the taste of your vanilla extract. Plain white vodka is preferred as it does a great job of extracting the vanilla flavor from the beans without infusing unnecessary flavors into the extract.
- Slice 5 vanilla beans in half. Using a sharp knife start at one side of the vanilla bean and slit it to the other end. This will allow the vodka to better become flavored by the deep vanilla flavor of the beans. You can use more beans for a stronger vanilla flavor if desired.
- Place the beans into the jar or bottle. Gently arrange your pods into the jar, making sure that you can still securely close the lid. How they are placed inside or what size they are doesn’t matter too much. Simply make sure they all fit.
- Fill the jar with your chosen liquor. Be sure to leave a little air at the top of the jar when filling. All of the vanilla bean pods should be fully submerged in the liquid in order to yield the best results.
- Store the jar somewhere dark for 6-12 months. For the best results be sure that your vanilla extract is kept somewhere dark and cool. Vanilla extract takes a while to make, but once it’s finished, it’s delicious so place it in a dark cupboard and check back a few months later.
It’s important to note, that the longer that homemade vanilla extract is allowed to ferment the deeper and tastier the flavors will be. This extract can last 5-10 years if stored properly, making it a great addition to any kitchen.
If you’re more of a visual learner, Laura in the Kitchen has a fantastic video on making homemade vanilla extract. She does a great job of walking you through the process quickly and effectively.
You can bake without using vanilla extract. As previously stated, vanilla’s primary function in most recipes is to enhance the flavor. So if you’re baking a cake or another dessert without it, your dish will still turn out texturally fine, it will simply be lacking a vanilla flavor. This is why it’s always a good idea to use a substitute.
The best substitutes include:
- Maple syrup
- Other extracts
- Vanilla products
- Vanilla almond or coconut milk
- Citrus zest
Whatever you decide to use, make sure that it complements the flavor of the dish you’re baking.