🔕 🔔

My Basket ()

All questions

Vanilla in chocolate cake, why?

It's always perplexed me as to why you add vanilla extract to chocolate cake batter. Seiously, how can it distinguish itself in the end if it's competing against the 3/4 cup of cocao that's in the mix as well? OK, it could be there for somekind of undertone, but again, would it be missed?

asked by cheese1227 over 6 years ago
7 answers 35258 views
Ddd52943 cdf0 4edb a2d4 73aa286607f0  399571 2853636453848 1694221275 n
added over 6 years ago

Wow, great question! For me, I think vanilla is a little like salt, not adding it when called for, there's just an indescribable something missing. It seems to be a great balancing flavor. That's the best way I can word it!

3639eee1 5e0d 4861 b1ed 149bd0559f64  gator cake

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

added over 6 years ago

Great question indeed. I can't find an obvious answer. Cook's Illustrated explains about every ingredient choice for their chocolate cake recipes, except for the vanilla (which is included in each recipe!) I agree with TiggyBee's impression of why it's in there, it accentuate other flavors. You could bake a chocolate cake w/ vanilla and w/o and see if you can detect a difference!

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added over 6 years ago

Per Harold McGee: "Added with a light touch, vanilla can contribute a sense of depth, warmness, roundness, and persistence to almost any food."

766e7ce3 8394 4788 8337 bbd8a8d3a07e  5.15.11 coconut macaroons best sm
added over 6 years ago

Vanilla is a great enhancer of flavor, just like salt (good comparison, TiggyBee). It's great on its own, of course, but in chocolate cake, it's meant more to bring out the other flavors. Some chocolate purists will tell you that vanilla isn't needed if your chocolate is high-quality. I happen to agree with this. If you're using very high-quality chocolate in your cake, you probably won't miss the vanilla. Instead, you'll be enjoying the whole gamut of flavors that come out of good chocolate. (Think fruity, nutty, or earthy notes.)

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added over 6 years ago

If someone put vanilla in their chocolate cake recipe they did for depth and flavor. Someone was thinking in complex terms rather than the mundane.

2269774e 64e7 47ec 8fb3 d6fb03cce199  debbykalk photo
added over 6 years ago

You could make both with and without and see if you find a worthwhile difference. I would think it would contribute a subtle depth of flavor. Just like adding coffee to a chocolate cake.

Fff96a46 7810 4f5c a452 83604ac1e363  dsc03010
added over 6 years ago

No, you don't have to use vanilla, but it helps when you're baking a cake or brownies or cookies, instances when that 3/4 cup of cocoa or chocolate will be competing with flour and eggs and butter and sugar to be noticed by your taste buds. Not only does vanilla boost the flavor of the chocolate, it gently coerces the other ingredients to play well with each other.

When the chocolate has little or no competition for your taste buds, as with something like ganache, I leave out the vanilla.

Let's Keep in Touch!

Get the recipes and features that have us talking, plus first dibs on events and limited-batch products.

(Oh, and $10 off your order of $50 or more in the Food52 Shop, too.)

Please enter a valid email address.