When it comes time to choose which vanilla flavor addition to use, one of the key influencing factors will be the temperatures that your baked goods will be exposed to in the oven. Desserts that require lower temperature bakes, like custard, will allow the vanilla extract’s flavor to remain intact. Cookies, on the other hand, will be cooked to a higher internal temperature. In blind studies, taste testers preferred the imitation vanilla version of the cookie better, noting it had more vanilla flavor. In many cases, vanilla extract is used in small quantities in baked goods as a flavor enhancer for other ingredients like chocolate or fruits, so the fake stuff is fine there too.
If you’re making a sweet treat that is strictly vanilla in flavor, or a chilled dessert like ice cream, using real-deal vanilla is the superior option. Without competing flavors being present in the dessert, the depth of flavor present in pure vanilla can really express itself. Fortunately, there’s a Costco vanilla extract loved by professional bakers that has a surprisingly low price point.
Before you begin baking, it’s worth having a full understanding of your vanilla options. Vanilla bean paste gives the most authentic vanilla flavor of any option, while simultaneously operating as a natural thickening agent. The flecks of vanilla bean seeds in this paste will give your dessert the visual appeal of using a vanilla bean, without the extra work.