Vinegar is a surprisingly common ingredient in baked goods, considering that it has such a sharp flavor. But as an acid, vinegar is often included in cake and cookie batters to react with baking soda and start the chemical reaction needed to produce carbon dioxide and give those batters a lift as they bake. One of my favorite cake recipes takes advantage of this reaction: eggless chocolate cake. You can’t tell that the cake has vinegar in it when you taste the finished product and people are often surprised to hear that vinegar was included at all.
The two most frequently used in baking are white vinegar and apple cider vinegar. White vinegar has a sharp, even harsh, flavor if tasted alone, but it is a very simple flavor and does not really stand out when used in a complex batter. Cider vinegar, made from apples, has a faintly fruity flavor and is quite sweet compared to other types of vinegar. It’s very mild and works even better in batters because there is virtually no chance of any vinegar flavor surfacing in the finished product. Cider vinegar is my top choice in baking, but I don’t have a problem using white vinegar, either.
Balsamic vinegar is very popular at the moment and readers often ask if it can be used in place of other types of vinegar in recipes. The general rule here is that a recipe will call for balsamic if balsamic should be used. It can be used in other baking applications, but you should keep in mind that the flavor of balsamic vinegar is stronger than most other types of vinegar and it actually can show up in a finished product – especially if the cake is mildly flavored to begin with. Unless I wanted to play up the tangy flavor of the vinegar, or use it to contrast with a naturally sweet fruit, I would opt for white or cider before balsamic in most baked goods.