Extracts are a baking superhero – they can take any dessert from pretty good to absolutely amazing, adding lots of rich flavor in the process.
We’ve written a list of some of the most commonly-used extracts in baking and what they go well with, which should hopefully make your time in the kitchen quicker and easier. So take out a pen and paper – it’s time for a lesson in Extracts 101!
First of all, what even is an extract?
Extracts are used to enhance the flavor of your baked goods. Unlike emulsions or imitation flavorings, extracts are pure and are literally extracted from the raw plant source, usually in the form of an essential oil. Extracts are most often sold as either diluted tinctures or in powdered form and can be found at grocery stores and baking supply shops.
Most common types of extracts:
This is hands-down the most frequently encountered extract in baking. You can either buy pure extract made from real vanilla, or imitation vanilla flavor (but we find that the real stuff is much better). You might also notice that most stores sell more than one kind of vanilla extract – the different types are a result of different breeds of vanilla beans being used. For example, Tahitian vanilla has lots of floral notes, while Madagascar vanilla is very rich and bold. Bourbon vanilla is milder in flavor, while Mexican vanilla has a smoky flavor.
Almond extract, derived from bitter almond oil, is very common in international desserts, like Italian rainbow cookies, as well as in fruit desserts, with a taste that reminds us of a glass of Amaretto. It’s also much more potent than vanilla extract, so a little of this stuff will go a very long way. Additionally, we think almond extract pairs well with any vanilla dessert – put a small amount in your sugar cookies or pound cakes for a bolder and more mature flavor profile.
Anise extract is another great extract to have on hand if you’re into making international desserts, particularly Italian desserts. The taste is very similar to that of licorice or fennel. Most traditional biscotti recipes contain anise extract, as well as several types of international cookies, like pizzelles and German Pfeffernüse. It’s also frequently used to flavor liquors (ex. Absinthe & sambuca).
For a citrus flavor that really packs a punch, try using pure orange or lemon extract combined with fresh zest and/or juice from the fruit. Highly versatile, orange and lemon extracts can be used in cakes, cookies, muffins, jams, and even beverages. Both extracts are derived from the oil within the peel, resulting in a very bold flavor, and they pair really well with vanilla-flavored desserts.
Peppermint extract comes from the essential oils found within peppermint leaves, and is very popular around Christmas time! Use it to make your own candy canes, or for candy cane-inspired desserts. Just like almond extract, peppermint extract is one of the more potent extracts, so you’ll only need a small amount. Peppermint extract also has some medicinal properties and can be used for digestive ailments and minor aches and pains.
Coffee extract comes from real coffee beans and can be used as a substitute for your morning cup of coffee in an emergency (just note that it’s much more concentrated and so you’ll only need a little bit in your drink). When baking, use coffee extract to make coffee-flavored desserts, including homemade coffee ice cream! It also makes a great complement to anything with chocolate in it!