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Baking Decorations & Ingredients

Not all baking ingredients are made equal. True, every recipe is different, and if you find something that gives you the results you’re looking for, write it down in your secret black book and keep using it. Is there a difference when you use high-quality ingredients for baking cakes, cookies and other treats? Definitely. Deep flavors, more complex notes and intense aromas are a few benefits to a carefully selected and harvested product. It’s similar to balanced elements of a favorite vintage fine wine. The ingredients you choose, especially when baking, also have an effect on a cake’s texture and appearance as well as how well it rises. At Williams-Sonoma, our goal is to provide baking decorations and ingredients that help you create desserts exactly the way you envision.


One of the most-used baking ingredients is vanilla. It’s not surprising since vanilla has an effect on pastries and desserts that’s much like what salt does for entrées: it intensifies them. Vanilla complements and strengthens virtually any flavor profile, from citrus and exotic fruits to chocolate, spices and more. Vanilla is more than capable of standing alone as well. Homemade vanilla pound cake with a cup of freshly brewed espresso is hard for anyone to turn down.


Vanilla extract is commonly called for in recipes, but it’s far from your only option. What’s the difference between vanilla beans, vanilla paste and vanilla extract? Vanilla beans are the naturally occurring source of vanilla. They’re long pods that come from a special type of orchid. Vanilla beans are filled with hundreds of tiny vanilla seeds, also called flecks. In vanilla paste, all of those seeds are suspended in thick syrup and are visible. Vanilla extract is made by macerating vanilla beans with alcohol and water. The result is a dark concentrated vanilla liquid with low viscosity.


Which option – vanilla beans, vanilla extract or vanilla paste – is the best? That’s a completely personal decision. Some chefs prefer extract, while others swear by vanilla paste. Some recipes call for a specific type as well, although they’re interchangeable in different proportions. Vanilla extract is quick and easy to use and has a strong vanilla flavor. Vanilla beans have a beautiful aroma and impress guests and family members too. Vanilla paste has those same specks and only takes a few seconds to use. If you want to be able to see the wonderful vanilla flecks in the dessert you’re making, such as homemade vanilla ice cream, go with vanilla beans or paste.


Vanilla purists, like wine connoisseurs, value each subtle note in high-quality vanilla. If you’re passionate about it, you might even have a favorite variety. Vanilla beans vary slightly depending on their providence, whether Madagascar Bourbon, Mexican or Tahitian vanilla. Mexican vanilla is a little darker and more mysterious while Tahitian vanilla has a distinctive aroma. Trying them out is a lot of fun. Most importantly, cook with the ingredients you love.

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