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When Is Vanilla Extract Like Salt?

 Almost all of the baking recipes I have used have called for vanilla extract. Is vanilla only included to add to the sweetness of a dessert? If I choose to substitute another kind of extract, such as almond extract, will the recipe not turn out correctly?

 Have you ever tasted vanilla? If you have, you know it does not add any sweetness. In fact, it is one of the best smelling/foulest tasting items in your kitchen.

What it does add is an indescribable quality, a poetic quality, a depth, a richness – we would say a "je ne sais quoi," if it didn't make us blush so visibly.

You might have to compensate in the dish for the small amount of liquid your vanilla represents, but just leave it out of a recipe and you should be able to tell the difference right away. Or do as you suggest and substitute almond extract – we think you'll be shocked by the difference. It may turn out wonderfully and you may love it, but the difference between using vanilla and almond extract can be bigger than the difference between using butter and margarine. (We're not making any value judgments, just noting that there is big difference.)

On the one or two occasions we have forgotten to add vanilla extract to our semi-weekly batch of chocolate-chip cookies, we noticed right away that something was missing. They're still delicious, but they're much more one dimensional.

Vanilla functions a little like salt – it makes the other ingredients in your dish more interesting.

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