Hello, holiday baking season! Around the country, passionate home chefs are on an all-out baking spree, dishing out cookies and candies faster than Santa can eat. While baking is a science that requires many different, precise ingredients, no baker would dare to whip up such tasty treats without a bottle of high-quality vanilla extract. The sugary essence is a universally beloved way to add a bit of sweetness to any dessert.
Before you bake any further, two different pastry chefs recommend adding a bottle of Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract ($35) to your Amazon carts. Albeit expensive, the decadent extract gets a gold star for delivering a flavorful experience, whether you're whipping up peppermint bark or peanut brittle.
Leen Nuun, executive pastry chef for the Omni PGA Frisco Resort and former Chopped Sweets champion, recommends it for bringing out sweetness in treats. “This is the ‘go-to’ vanilla extract when we want to highlight the intense vanilla flavor,” Nunn says. Because it's so aromatic and powerful, a little goes a long way: "My favorite way to use [it] is to open the cap and smell the aroma first!" she says. "I always pour a little bit at a time on a spoon to measure."
What to look for in vanilla extract
While Nielsen-Massey's extract takes the cake, it's not the only one worth storing in your pantry. Both Neen and baker, Justin Ellen, agree that any good extract comes down to the word "pure." Ellen—who competed on Netflix's Is It Cake? and is the founder of New Jersey-based bakery, Everything Just Baked!—says the word "pure" on the label indicates it's sure to be a good one. "Vanilla extract is just alcohol and vanilla beans. No other ingredients are needed,” Ellen says.
Whatever bottle you buy, make sure you store it properly to preserve its quality. You might be tempted to just chuck it in the fridge, but both pastry pros advise to treat your extract like a vampire and keep it in the dark. “The best way to store vanilla extract is to keep it away from the sunlight, heat, and humidity,” chef Nunn says. A dark pantry or kitchen cabinet will suffice.
And finally, consider what you're going to bake. If you're just rounding out a batch of basic sugar cookies, you probably don't need the pricey Nielsen-Massey bottle—save that for intense flavors. “I try to use it only when I really need the flavor to shine through. For instance, vanilla ice cream or buttercream,” Ellen says."
Chef Nunn says that McCormick’s Culinary Pure Vanilla Extract ($40) is a good quality extract for everyday recipes. The Food Network champ also notes that, “this particular one has more vanilla notes than regular McCormick vanilla extract.” Similarly,
Kirkland Signature Pure Vanilla Extract ($24) is another solid bet to get you through baking season. “This is the brand I use most often for all of my desserts! It's more affordable and still has amazing quality,” says Ellen. “[It's] another good quality extract that doesn’t hurt the bank and is another familiar brand,” says Nuun.
Also available in 32 fl. oz. on Amazon.
There you have it—the best vanilla extracts on Amazon, straight from pastry chefs who use them everyday. Snag a bottle of your own to make this holiday season especially delicious.
Tired of sugar cookies? Try this superfood holiday bark instead.
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