Vanilla Desserts

Vanilla is anything but boring

While "vanilla" is often used as a synonym for plain or boring, the flavor of this complex spice is anything but. Sweet, floral, and delicately spicy, we love using vanilla to flavor everything from ice cream to cookies to custards. We've rounded up our favorite vanilla dessert recipes.

Many vanilla desserts start with vanilla extract. It seems like a mysterious ingredient that you have to buy, but making your own is incredibly easy so long as you have patience. Mix vanilla beans with vodka and dark rum and store in a cool, dark place. In four to six months you'll have the best vanilla extract you've ever tasted.

Forget chocolate—when it comes to ice cream, we're on team vanilla. There's something incredibly soothing about a creamy serving of vanilla ice cream. Our simple vanilla ice cream base from pastry chef Tracy Obolsky serves as a base for all sorts of flavors, but is satisfying on its own. Topping it with strawberries macerated in Grand Marnier makes for a boozy, sophisticated sundae.

Soft serve ice cream is a beloved treat, but it's nearly impossible to make at home. If you don't have access to a soft serve machine, we have a secret trick: blending store-bought vanilla ice cream and whipped cream in a stand mixer produces a remarkable similar product.

Vanilla is the perfect flavoring for a rich-but-delicate custard. Our vanilla-rum custard is a decadent dessert. Our favorite custard is a classic crème brûlée. While some recipes tell you to caramelize it under the broiler, an inexpensive kitchen blowtorch is a more reliable way to get a shattering crust.

Find all of these recipes and more in our collection of vanilla desserts.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is one of those things that seems mysterious and magical, but is actually ridiculously simple to make at home. Order a pound of Grade B vanilla beans from an online seller and half your work is done. Split the beans, plunge them into booze and time does the rest.Nicole Franzen
Vanilla Ice Cream

Vanilla Ice Cream

This basic ice cream recipe from pastry chef Tracy Obolsky of North End Grill is endlessly customizable; turn it into anything from chocolate to rum-raisin to pistachio. While you can freeze is as soon as two hours after cooking the base, Obolsky recommends allowing the final mixture to rest in the fridge for 24 hours to let the flavors mellow and the proteins relax, which makes for a creamier final product.Farideh Sadeghin
"Cheater" Soft Serve Ice Cream

"Cheater" Soft Serve Ice Cream

Making actual soft serve at home is nearly impossible—here's the best way to hack it.Farideh Sadeghin

Crème Brûlée

Crème Brûlée
Beating egg yolks with sugar until pale and fluffy is the key to the smooth texture in this rich, classic French dessert, as made by Dennis Wist, father of Saveur Art Associate Allie Wist.Farideh Sadeghin
Grand Marnier Strawberry Sundaes

Grand Marnier Strawberry Sundaes

Boozy, macerated strawberries top vanilla ice cream in this simple sundae. Get the recipe for Grand Marnier Strawberry Sundaes »Matt Taylor-Gross
Nectarine, Blueberry, and Vanilla Bean Hand Pies

Nectarine, Blueberry, and Vanilla Bean Hand Pies

Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga of Ovenly in Brooklyn give us their recipe for nectarine, blueberry, and vanilla bean hand pies, which work equally well for breakfast as they do dessert.Matt Taylor-Gross
Vanilla Cake

Vanilla Cake

This vanilla cake is anything but basic—the tang of buttermilk adds interest, while brown sugar bumps the earthy vanilla notes. Christina Tosi uses it as the base for her towering, masterful Strawberry Lemon Layer Cake.Matt Taylor-Gross
Vanilla Meringue

Vanilla Meringue

This classic meringue from San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Creamery can be used as-is for a gooey, marshmallow-fluff-like topping or lightly brûléed with a torch for a toasty, s’mores-style shell. To ensure an airy, voluminous meringue, make sure your bowl and whisk are wiped clean and the whites aren’t ice-cold—room temperature is ideal.Matt Taylor-Gross
Sparkling Vanilla-Grapefruit Granita

Sparkling Vanilla-Grapefruit Granita

Fragrant vanilla enhances the taste of this refreshing, slushy dessert.Ingalls Photography
Hugh Acheson's Eggnog

Hugh Acheson's Eggnog

In this Southern spin on the boozy Yuletide favorite, a mix of bourbon and rum takes the place of brandy.Ariana Lindquist
Labneh Tart

Labneh Tart

Labneh, a thick strained yogurt, is the base for this vanilla-spiked tart.Andre Baranowski
Vanilla-Scented Quince and Pear Pie

Vanilla-Scented Quince and Pear Pie

This sweet, tart fruit pie is a beautiful showcase for the flavors of fall and winter. It's great on a holiday table, and is at its best when served alongside a plate of cheese: the rich quince flavor balances beautifully with a wedge of funky, crumbly blue beside it on the plate.Helen Rosner
Vanilla-Glazed Yeast Donuts

Vanilla-Glazed Yeast Donuts

Clarified butter and evaporated milk give the vanilla glaze on these donuts a satiny consistency.Todd Coleman
Elvis Presley's Pound Cake

Elvis Presley's Pound Cake

The King was a big fan of rich sweets, and classic buttery pound cake—flavored simply with vanilla—was no exception.Penny De Los Santos
Vanilla-Rum Custard (La Tart)

Vanilla-Rum Custard (La Tarte)

The creaminess of this classic vanilla custard gains an edge with the addition of light rum.Penny De Los Santos
Iced Sugar Cookies

Iced Sugar Cookies

Simple, buttery vanilla sugar cookies are a classic; they make great gifts or potluck desserts.James Roper
Vanilla-Thyme Crème Anglaise

Vanilla-Thyme Crème Anglaise

Classic crème anglaise—a vanilla custard sauce—gets a slight herbal note with the addition of a few sprigs of thyme.Yossy Arefi
Vanilla Cream Fudge

Vanilla Cream Fudge

Real vanilla bean adds intense flavor to chewy fudge squares.Todd Coleman
Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta

Michelle Heimerman