I have been meaning to blog about this for a while but seem to always run short of time. I am eager to hear other bakers's opinions on the matter, so please do not be shy as this is an issue close to my baking heart.
My dilemma is this: when it comes to making vanilla cupcakes, do you use vanilla bean, vanilla paste or vanilla extract? These are the sort of hard hitting questions I have to deal with on a daily basis. I know, I live a tough existence.
To be entirely honest, I have made vanilla cupcakes using all three vanilla forms (not all in the same cupcake batch) and I am undecided. Well that is not entirely true, I prefer vanilla bean and paste over extract any day. However, I use vanilla extract in my buttercream icing, so I don't want to go bagging vanilla extract out too much!
So, why am I so hating on vanilla extract? I don't know how to explain it without sounding like some crazy over protective mother (which FYI, I am not - I don't plan on having kids for another 40 or 50 years, i.e. until someone creates a machine that can teleport babies out of one's stomach)! But here goes nothing, I feel as though I am cheating the system by using vanilla extract because it is not really "vanilla", it is vanilla flavouring. And as you know (from previous posts), where ever possible I try to avoid using colouring and artificial flavourings in my bake goods.
Vanilla paste, on the other hand, is great. One teaspoon of this bad boy or girl (I feel the need to be PC (politically correct) on my blog) is the equivalent of one whole vanilla bean with vanilla seeds. However, being ten dollars (AUD) a pop, it can prove to be a costly affair. But I guess the more important question is: is it worth it? Absolutely! The vanilla paste really packs a punch and is worth every cent. It adds a real vanilla flavour kick to cupcakes. Personally, I love a good vanilla cupcake and I believe vanilla paste provides you with that strong vanilla flavour. Also, it's awesome that you are able to see the vanilla seeds in the cupcake itself. Flavour you can see - literally!
I must admit, I used seeds from real vanilla beans for the first time a few weeks ago. I had these vanilla beans sitting in my pantry for a few decent months before actually putting them to use! They were given to me from some dear friends, Jules and Trista, who had returned from Bali and gave me a bag. Apparently, they are cheap as chips in B-Town (B for Bail or Bingtang - read it how you will). And the verdict? In my opinion, it was no different then using the vanilla paste. The only difference was I had to cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds into the batter, oppose to just simply pouring the paste in. A little more effort, but the same result, at a slightly more cheaper price.
So in summary, for fantastic vanilla cupcakes use either vanilla paste or actual vanilla beans. If you are somewhat lazy, like me, I would recommend the paste. If you are more eager, unlike me, I would recommend the real deal and go with the actual beans (as it might be a tad cheaper).