From Vanilla Bean to Vanilla Rose Babka

By Amelia Schwartz | Jaclyn Warren


Amelia Schwartz
Jaclyn Warren
Bakers Tamar Fasja Unikel and Elena Vázquez Felgueres of Masa Madre
Bakers Tamar Fasja Unikel and Elena Vázquez Felgueres of Masa Madre

Bakers Tamar Fasja Unikel and Elena Vázquez Felgueres know how to put a twist on sweetened breads. Their signature hot chocolate babka is what launched Masa Madre. The pair would bake in their apartment then hand-deliver the babka to local cafes. Now operating out of F&B incubator space The Hatchery, Fasja Unikel and Vázquez Felgueres built an entire menu of Mexican- and Jewish-inspired pastries, including many seasonal spins on their original babka.

When Mother’s Day came around, Fasja Unikel and Vázquez Felgueres wanted to create something feminine and lavish. “We were thinking that babka is already a gift, but a typical Mother’s Day gift is flowers,” Vázquez Felgueres says. So they set out on a mission to incorporate floral flavors into a butter-based filling. “We tried different fillings that were more complicated and went with the simplest, which was vanilla.” They whip butter and sugar together until it gets nice and fluffy, then they add vanilla extract, mixing again to infuse the flavor. After spreading the vanilla butter onto the dough, they sprinkle a layer of dried rose petals, light enough to not overpower the vanilla. 

Symrise, vnlla Extract Co.’s parent company, created its extract for people like Fasja Unikel and Vázquez Felgueres—chefs who want to unleash their creativity. The vanilla comes from the SAVA region of Madagascar, where Symrise partners with more than 7,000 farmers across 84 villages. Paid competitive incomes with benefits, the Malagasy farmers are educated on crop management to produce quality beans. 

Vanilla trees are planted in precise locations that have the perfect amount of shade and soil moisture. Although the flowering period occurs over a three-to-four-month period, blossoms are open for only six hours, so farmers are constantly monitoring the fickle plant. The flowers are pollinated and the green-colored beans are harvested, both done by hand, then cured to become dried and dark brown. The beans are shipped to the United States, where they are extracted, packaged, and distributed. This sustainable supply chain guarantees a consistent, reliable, and delicious final product.

vnlla Extract Co.’s pure vanilla extract is fit for Masa Madre’s vanilla rose babka. Fasja Unikel and Vázquez Felgueres exclusively use sustainably made ingredients and love what it adds to their loaves. “It has a distinct smell, very characteristic of real vanilla,” Vázquez Felgueres says. “A lot of people think vanilla is boring, but when you get a good vanilla extract, I think it’s very subtle, elegant, not too overwhelming, not too sweet.”

Presented by vnlla Extract Co.

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