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What happens if a cake doesn’t have vanilla extract in it?

If you’ve ever wondered how to bake a cake without using vanilla essence, you’ve come to the perfect spot.

We’re going to explore what you can use instead of vanilla extract when you’re baking a cake. Are those replacements easier to find than vanilla extract or not? Will they have the same depth of flavor? It is yet to be determined.

If you’re interested in another dessert-related subject, check out my post on how to create box brownies without eggs.

Now, let’s see about baking a cake without vanilla extract and whether you can skip adding this ingredient entirely. Let me start by saying that I would not endorse it.

Substitutes for Baking a Cake without Vanilla Extract

1. Vanilla essence: Watkins Clear Vanilla Flavor

This is the most similar option for making a cake without vanilla extract while maintaining the same taste character. It’s manufactured with synthetic vanilla, so the flavor will be less, but the taste will be the same. Use 2 tablespoons essence instead of 1 teaspoon extract.

2. Pure maple syrup: Maple Grove Farms Pure Maple Syrup

We can use it in a 1:1 substitution. Nevertheless, vanilla extract and maple syrup do not have the same flavor. Maple syrup will not work if you want a vanilla flavor. Plus, keep in mind that it’s very sweet so you might need to adjust the quantities of sugar added.

3. Almond extract: McCormick Pure Almond Extract

It will give pastries a nutty flavor. It’s a much stronger than vanilla extract, so just use half of it. In terms of flavor, it plainly has nothing in common with vanilla.

4. Instant espresso powder: King Arthur, Espresso Powder

This tastes extremely well in chocolate pastries. It will undoubtedly enhance the chocolate flavor, so you won’t need to add vanilla extract. It’s one of my favorite spices.

Baking a cake without vanilla extract: Does a cake taste good without it?

It’ll taste OK, but it won’t be the same. You will definitely be able to tell that something really important is missing.

I’m not sure how to convey what this ingredient does to sweets other than to say that it makes them taste so much better. Even in modest amounts, it adds another layer to the overall tastes you’re attempting to produce. It enhances the flavor of the other components, whether they are fruits, nuts, or chocolate.

Vanilla extract, on the other hand, has no effect on the structure or texture, so you’re safe in this regard.

Always get pure vanilla extract. A little bottle will last a long time.

Even though we’re discussing making a cake without vanilla extract, I must warn you that there is no ideal alternative for the genuine thing.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that some consumers believe the extract overpowers the other components. For those few people, the answer to baking a cake without vanilla extract is to simply to skip adding it altogether.

Vanilla Bean Paste and Vanilla Extract

vanilla extract substitute

Vanilla has a floral, sweet flavor that pairs well with a lot of ingredients: chocolate, fruit, nuts, spices. It’s no surprise that it’s included as an ingredient in so many recipes.

I always make sure to have plenty in the house because I add it to my pancakes batter. On weekends, it is the most requested dessert in my home.

Vanilla bean paste and vanilla extract are both interchangeable. If you’re making a vanilla frosting, the little flecks from the paste will look lovely, they’ll be in the spotlight for sure.

Yet, I feel that those looking for making a cake without vanilla essence are unlikely to have a jar of vanilla bean paste in their cupboard.

If, by any chance, you do, you’ve already found a replacement. Use the exact quantity specified in the recipe. As previously stated, these two terms may be used interchangeably.

Baking a Cake Without Vanilla Extract: the Best Substitutes

There are solutions for creating a cake without vanilla extract, but certain things, in my view, simply don’t have ideal counterparts.

I absolutely recommend using vanilla extract or bean paste or to just make your own extract. When we discuss these replacements, I’ll offer you the recipe.

Still, I have some good replacements for you to try. Besides vanilla essence & sugar, one of my favorites is instant espresso powder.

1. Vanilla Essence


If you don’t have extract, choose essence, which is significantly weaker. It’s made from synthetic vanilla so it’s going to have a much weaker flavor.

I’d estimate you’ll need twice as much essence to equal the taste that the extract would have added to the cake.

Use 2 tablespoons essence instead of 1 teaspoon extract.

I know it’s synthetic, but when it comes to vanilla extract alternatives, this one has the same taste, even if you have to use more of it.

Certainly, vanilla bean paste is a far superior option, but I doubt many people have it in their cupboard if they don’t have extract.

2. Vanilla Sugar (How to Make It)

You may simply produce your own vanilla sugar and save it for when you run out of extract.

It will work well as a substitution; just remember to reduce the quantity of sugar called for in the recipe by the amount of vanilla sugar you used.

To prepare the sugar, you’ll need a vanilla bean as well as the seeds.

One bean per 2 cups of sugar is plenty. It will not be prohibitively costly to produce.

In a coffee grinder, blender, or food processor, grind the sugar.

Split the bean in half lengthwise and use the point of a knife to scrape out the seeds.

Remove the seeds from the knife using a knife or a spoon. Don’t touch them with your hands because they’re sticky.

Place the seeds on top of the sugar and then blend/whisk/pulse until all the seeds are broken up. Although the sugar will be fine, it may still be used in most recipes.

Pour your mixture into a jar and add the sliced bean. You can let it sit like that for 2 weeks for a more intense flavor.

3. Pure Maple Syrup


For many individuals, this is their first choice. It’s recommended to use pure maple syrup. You can use it in the same quantity the recipe states for the extract. A 1:1 replacement is made.

These two, however, have completely different preferences. Pure maple syrup is a substitute for vanilla extract but don’t expect the same flavor because you won’t get it.

Also, if your syrup is overly sweet, you’ll need to add less sugar to avoid sugar overload.

The extract adds flavor to the cakes, while the syrup adds sweetness. As you can see, they’re not a perfect match but it can work.

4. Almond Extract


I am well aware that having almond extract at home is not something that a lot of people have. That is why I suggested all of the other alternatives listed above.

Yet, if you want to bake a cake without vanilla extract, almond extract might be a fantastic substitute.

Just be aware that almond extract has a pretty strong flavor profile. When substituting almond extract for vanilla extract in a recipe, use just half the amount.

The nutty taste complements many types of cakes. However, if you’re not into the whole nutty taste, don’t use this substitute.

5. Dark Rum/Brandy/Bourbon

You can replace vanilla extract with dark rum or brandy or bourbon. You may use a 1:1 substitute or twice as much alcohol as extract.

As you’ll see, alcohol is needed for manufacturing homemade vanilla extract, so this alternative makes sense.

As you are all aware, the taste profile will not be present.

Clearly, this will not work for individuals who do not use alcohol in any form. Just as it won’t work for those who usually don’t keep these types of alcohol in the house.

6. Instant Espresso Powder

If you’re preparing chocolate sweets, this alternative is ideal. It will definitely make chocolate taste more chocolatey so you actually won’t miss the lack of vanilla extract at all.

After all, vanilla extract is used in chocolate desserts to enhance the taste of the chocolate. That is also what instant espresso powder does. In situations like this, they are ideal alternatives.

Spice cakes and gingerbread may also benefit from the addition of instant espresso powder. It may also be used to reduce the sweetness of caramel. It’s an ingredient with many uses and more amateur bakers should be aware of just how much a pinch can contribute to a recipe.

I would recommend adding half of espresso powder.

If the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, you can use 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder. If you have both, use them both.

How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

We discussed making a cake without vanilla extract, but what if you can produce your own and eliminate the need for the substitutions I suggested above?

If you want to make sure that you never run out of vanilla extract, maybe you’d prefer making your own. You’ll be able to plan ahead of time when a fresh batch has to be begun.

You’ll be surprised to find out that it’s not complicated at all but it will require quite a bit of patience. You’re not going to get there in a day. More like a couple of months, or half a year, up to a year if you’re extremely patient.

It will also need some initial expenditure. I’m sorry to say but I don’t think it’s going to be cheaper making your own extract as opposed to buying it.

Yet that expenditure may be worthwhile if you take the time to prepare a very superb vanilla extract.

Moreover, you’ll know for sure that no artificial or synthetic ingredients have been used. That’s a significant benefit.

The taste will wow you. Some store-bought options just have a diluted aroma that spoils all the fun of baking.

The good news is that you’ll need just 2 ingredients:

  • vanilla beans
  • vodka

Vanilla beans may be purchased at a shop or online. The Madagascar Vanilla Beans are my personal favorite. A second alternative is Tahitian Vanilla Beans. You may also choose Indonesian Vanilla Beans as a third alternative. Last but not least, we have Mexican Vanilla Beans for an almost smoky flavor.

I’ll leave the choice of vodka up to you.

Other forms of alcohol, such as bourbon, rum, or brandy, may also be used. It just needs to be 80 proof alcohol (40% ABV). Vodka is the most usual option, but avoid flavored versions.

You don’t need to buy expensive alcohol, just get the cheap stuff because the vanilla beans are the star of the show here. The alcohol is just a vehicle for extracting the taste from the beans.

Be careful to use certified gluten-free alcohol if you’re using it for gluten-free baking.


For every 16 ounces of alcohol, you’ll need 8 vanilla beans. Instead, 4 beans for 8 ounces of alcohol. As you can see, you can simply modify the number based on how much beans you purchased.

Slit the beans in two down the middle, lengthwise.

Place the slit beans in a bottle or jar with a tight seal. If the beans don’t fit, chop them into smaller pieces.

Pour alcohol over the beans until they are thoroughly submerged.

Shake the mix a few times.

Keep the jar/bottle in a dark, out-of-the-way location.

You will have to shape the mix once a week.

Let at least two months for the vanilla essence to develop.

However, you can also wait for 6 months or even a year until you open the jar and start using it for your desserts. The flavor will get stronger the longer the jar remains unopened. That’s why I said it takes time.

You can use the extract with the seeds that are floating in the jar or you can use a cheesecloth to remove everything and get a clear liquid. I like to see the seeds in my pastries.

That’s all there is to it. We saw which substitutes work for baking a cake without vanilla extract but I also presented you with the possibility of making your own extract in whatever quantity you want from just 2 ingredients.

Related Questions

  • What happens if you don’t have vanilla extract for cake?

    Maple syrup is my go-to vanilla extract alternative. It has the same sweet scent of vanilla and mimics the mellow taste rather well. You’ll hardly notice the difference if you use the same quantity of maple syrup as vanilla.

  • How important is vanilla extract in cake?

    The role of vanilla in sweet baked goods is like the role of salt on the savory side: it enhances all the other flavors in the recipe. Cookies and cakes without it tend to taste flat and boring. If you forget to add the vanilla just once, you’ll probably never do it again!

  • What happens if you don’t have enough vanilla extract?

    The taste of maple syrup is close enough to that of vanilla extract that it may be substituted for an equivalent quantity of vanilla extract. Pure maple syrup is preferred, although pancake syrup may suffice as well. Any taste differences will be slight, although maple syrup contains more sugar than vanilla.

  • Will a cake be OK without vanilla extract?

    Vanilla extract is not required for the structure of a baking recipe. But, omitting it from a dish will alter the taste. Vanilla extract improves the taste of cookies, cakes, muffins, and other baked goods.