A Trio of Vanilla Pound Cakes

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Saturday was the day to do side by side tastings of our three vanilla extracts. We started with French toast for breakfast, with three egg dips for the bread – one with Madagascar vanilla, one with Mexican and one with Tahitian. I must say we couldn’t taste much difference between the Madagascar and the Mexican. The Tahitian was slightly more fragrant and slightly deeper in flavor. All in all, not an exciting taste testing experience. That isn’t to say that the French toast, dripping in butter and sprinkled with powdered sugar, wasn’t a nice way to start a weekend morning.

Later in the day I was thinking of what we could have for dessert. Saturday is our dessert day around here. I try to keep my baking confined to the weekends, at least for desserts, since I don’t have enough willpower to resist the pull of sugar and butter if there are baked goods sitting around. I decided on vanilla pound cake, so I could continue our taste testing.

The original pound cake recipe made two large loaves. I knew that we didn’t need two loaves of buttery vanilla goodness in the house. I decided to cut the recipe in half, and then divide the batter into thirds and use one type of vanilla in each. We would end up with three small loaves of pound cake – just enough to have a few tastes each before they were gone.

The recipe called for ¾ teaspoon of vanilla to make the two large loaves. If I cut the recipe exactly in half, as written, I would be using an eighth of a teaspoon of vanilla in each little loaf. That just didn’t seem like enough to me. After some discussion within the family, we decided on a teaspoon per third of the batter. For normal baking that would mean a tablespoon in the whole cake – not a small amount, but not crazy either.

The cakes baked up beautifully – golden brown, buttery and fragrant with vanilla. I was careful to keep them in the same order in the oven and on the cooling racks so I could keep track of which cake had which vanilla in it. “Madagascar, Mexican, Tahitian,” became the chant of the hour. Alphabetical order, you know.

We gave them their full time to cool and then we sliced each one. We were careful to keep them in order on our plates so we could do a proper taste testing. There was no doubt which one held the Tahitian vanilla. It smelled exactly like freshly made ice cream cones in an ice cream shop. We have noticed this with everything we have made with it so far, including pancakes and waffles.

The actual taste testing results were pretty similar to the French toast. The Mexican and Madagascar vanillas were pretty similar to each other, and to regular vanilla. The Tahitian was more fragrant and had greater depth than the other two. Of course, I couldn’t decide after my three pieces, so I had to have another set of three. In my defense, I had the end pieces to start, so they were smaller than what Rich and Calvin got. And the larger amount of crust, with its extra caramelization, interfered with my ability to taste the vanilla properly.

Final results – while we have yet to meet a vanilla that we don’t like, the Tahitian won hands down. The other two weren’t a lot different from our bottle of McCormick’s from Sam’s. We probably will buy one bottle of Tahitian vanilla when these three are gone.

I hope you are all as interested in our vanilla adventures as we are. Did I mention that we are already half done with the three bottles that were Rich’s Christmas gift? We didn’t open them until a few days into January – we have used six ounces of vanilla in a month. We have done a little more vanilla baking than we would have done normally, but I think that is pretty representative of our usual vanilla consumption. There are worse vices to have than an obsession with vanilla, right?

Download or print the recipe here.

Vanilla Pound Cake
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 1 loaf

I recommend letting the cake stand on its own, so the butter and vanilla can shine. But you can add a dusting of powdered sugar or a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce, if you like.

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 by 4 inch loaf pan and set aside.

Beat butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat again until light and fluffy and no longer gritty. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in salt and flour, taking care not to beat.

Spread batter in the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until dark golden brown around the edges and golden brown on top. A toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean when the cake is done.

Cool cake in the pan, on a wire rack, for about 10 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges and turn cake out of the pan onto the rack. Let cool to room temperature before slicing to serve. Keeps well for several days in an airtight container at room temperature. Freeze for longer storage.

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6 thoughts on “A Trio of Vanilla Pound Cakes

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for the insight on vanillas. This is right up my alley – I like the taste testing science-ish part of cooking but never do it. What do you think of the different vanillas at Penzey’s?

    • We used the double strength vanilla from Penzey’s for awhile, a few years ago. Then the price went up and we decided we would be better off buying cheaper vanilla and using twice as much when we wanted more vanilla flavor. I haven’t used their vanilla extracts in several years, so I really can’t comment on what they have now. But we really liked them in the past.

  2. Good to know! I’ll look for a Tahitian bottle next time. Or do you think this is the kind of thing where it’s really better to go straight to the source? Because Tahiti sounds reeeeeally good right about this time of year. 🙂

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