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
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.
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.
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.
Fragrant vanilla enhances the taste of this refreshing, slushy dessert.
Hugh Acheson’s Eggnog
In this Southern spin on the boozy Yuletide favorite, a mix of bourbon and rum takes the place of brandy.
Labneh, a thick strained yogurt, is the base for this vanilla-spiked tart.
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.
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.
Iced Sugar Cookies
Simple, buttery vanilla sugar cookies are a classic; they make great gifts or potluck desserts.
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.
While “vanilla” is often used as a synonym for plain or boring, the flavor of this complex spice is anything but. We love this simple Panna Cotta, an Italian-inspired dessert (the name means ”cooked cream”) that can be dressed up with almost any kind of fresh fruit. If you’re not a fan of rich chocolate desserts, look to these dreamy, vanilla recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth.