When I was a kid watching my mom bake, I always wondered why you add vanilla last. She could never tell me the reason.
What Is Vanilla Extract?
If you've ever baked a cake or cookies, you have probably used vanilla extract. This ingredient is used in almost every recipe for baked goods because of the fabulous taste it adds. Vanilla extract is always added to desserts because it chemically adds more flavor, and it also brings out the flavors of other ingredients in the mixture.
Is Imitation or Pure Vanilla Better?
Vanilla extract is an alcohol-based liquid that contains vanillin, which is the compound found in vanilla beans which gives them their distinct flavor. Vanilla is a brown-colored liquid, and it comes in many brands and in different levels of purity depending on how much alcohol and vanilla bean quantities it contains. What kind of purity is best for baking depends on personal tastes. Some chefs prefer stronger tasting vanilla and choose a higher purity level. Others may prefer the vanilla taste be toned down and choose a less strong variety.
Why Is Vanilla Added Last?
This is a question I always had as a kid when watching my mom baking sweets—but she could never tell me why. She just said that was how her mother did it. When she made custard pies in the double-boiler on the stove, she always put the vanilla in last.
When I discovered my love of cooking as an adult, this question arose again. Every time I baked, I noticed that vanilla was the last ingredient to be added. For years I wondered about this question, but because the internet wasn't as easy to access at that time in my life I couldn't find the answer. Years later, I remembered my question and set out to find the answer, which I will now share with you.
So why do you add vanilla last? The answer is pretty simple, and I feel silly I didn't think of it without doing any research. Vanilla is like alcohol, and it evaporates and cooks down when heated. When you heat something like custard for pie, you add the vanilla last because the vanilla will evaporate and the taste will not be as strong, or it could completely disappear if you add it too early. If you are mixing up a cold mixture like cookie dough, it is still best to add the vanilla last to prevent the taste from evaporating.
The type of vanilla you use can be very important because of the fact it evaporates. If you are cooking something that will become very hot, around 300 degrees, the vanilla flavor will decrease. Imitation vanilla flavor is better for things like cookies, which get hotter in the oven. Imitation vanilla is made so that it doesn’t bake off as quickly at high heats. For cakes, pure vanilla, which internally has a much lower baking temperature than cookies, gives off a stronger vanilla flavor, so pure vanilla flavoring would be a better option. It is more alcohol-based and will evaporate at high temperatures, but in cakes, the risk of the vanilla taste disappearing is less than with other baked goods.
Which kind you choose is up to your own personal tastes though. I personally can't stand imitation vanilla and always use pure vanilla in all my desserts. You just have to experiment to figure out which taste you prefer.
Can You Make Your Own Vanilla?
You can easily buy vanilla at the grocery store, but some cooks love to make their own. Here is a recipe to make your own vanilla extract. It's very simple. You add vanilla beans to vodka or another type of alcohol and let is sit for 8 weeks. At the end of the 8 weeks, you should have your own home made vanilla. Some chefs experiment with flavors by using bourbon, whiskey, and other types of alcohol for slightly different tastes. I did this one year and gave away small bottles of home made vanilla to people as gifts for the holidays. They were a huge hit, and I had plenty left over for making delicious holiday cookies.