How To Flavor With Vanilla

basket of vanilla beans - How To Flavor With Vanilla

Melipona bee pollinating a vanilla orchard

Image Credit: Athena Rayne Anderson 2008

Vanilla is a flavoring that is extracted from orchids, primarily from the flat-leaved vanilla Mexican species.

The first endeavors to propagate or grow the vanilla orchid outside of Mexico had shown to be in vain as this particular orchid has a synergetic alliance with its natural pollinator, the Melipona bee.

At least 40 species of this bee are known, and thrive in Mexico, as well as Argentina.

Other areas were the vanilla orchid is now successfully produced, such as in Tahiti and Madagascar among other places, is entirely dependent on artificial pollination.

The magazine – “Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution” states that the vanilla orchid is one of very few crops whose production depends entirely on artificial pollination.

How To Pollinate The Vanilla Orchid

This video provides details how to successfully pollinate the vanilla orchid that produces vanilla beans! This presentation was appropriated by the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden.

Using Vanilla In Baking

When it comes to baking, vanilla is a very important ingredient, and there are 3 ways to use it…

  1. Vanilla Bean
  2. Vanilla Extract
  3. Vanilla Paste

Let’s examine the differences between these three and how to best use them in your baking.

Vanilla Beans

 Whole Madagascar Vanilla Beans

Whole Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans themselves provide wonderful flavor to any recipe that calls for it. The bean can cost between $7 to $13  for a small jar of two or three beans. They are a little time consuming to work with, but you will find the flavor they produce to be well worth the time.

You want to find vanilla beans that are plump and smooth with a slight shine and that are highly fragrant. Avoid overly dried beans. Using the vanilla in dessert recipes that call for it, gives the finished baked good an intense vanilla flavor that you might never want to go back to using another form of vanilla.

Be warned though, the bean can leave specks of brown throughout the baked good. To some this is great, but if you are baking a white cake, then employing the vanilla bean for such recipes may not work. That brings us to another form: vanilla extract.

Vanilla Extract

 

Vanilla extract is the common form used in baking.

To acquire the extract, the bean is mashed, and it is infused with a mixture of alcohol, a clear drinking alcohol is used, like Vodka.

Vanilla extract readily available, not only as pure, but also artificially made. The extract is simple to measure out and use in your baking.

Vanilla Paste

Pure Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste

Pure Vanilla Bean Paste

Vanilla paste, though spendy (between $12 to $16 for a 4 ounce jar), is the best of both worlds when it comes to choosing between vanilla beans and vanilla extract.

Vanilla paste is the flesh of the pod scooped-out, and make available at market in small jars. So you are getting all of the flavor of the bean without all of the hassle. It will still provide those flecks of color in your baking like the actual bean does.

For vanilla paste, consult the jar to see how much to use in your recipes. It usually shows the conversions between vanilla extract and the paste.

When in doubt, gradually add to your baking, tasting after each addition to help you determine the right amount of vanilla flavor.

Which One To Use

Most recipes do call for vanilla extract but if you do decide to substitute the bean or paste for the extract, you can. One bean actually equals about three teaspoons of vanilla extract.

The next time you bake, try using vanilla beans or paste instead of the more common vanilla extract. Of course, what you decide to use depends on your personal preference.

Link Here For A Selection Of Dessert Recipes From Splendid Recipes and More

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Baking Cookies Everyone Will Enjoy

Closeup of a tray of fresh baked cookies, Chocolate Chip, oatmeal raisin Chocolate and white chocolate chip cookies on baking sheet and parchment paper -Baking Cookies Everyone Will EnjoyMost everyone enjoys a good cookie. But if you were to take a poll, and ask people what is a good baked cookie for them? Some might say, a cookie that is thin and crispy, another may say, soft and chewy, and yet another, light and cakey.

Crisp and Thin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Image Credit: Thin & Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies by: Handle The Heat

Do you have cookie lovers in your home who may prefer a cookie that is made the way they like it, that is crispy, or chewy, and possibly light and cake like? We have the solution to please all cookie lovers in your life.

To get a Thin & CrispySoft & ChewyLight & Cakey cookie, you need to make a slight modification to the ingredients in the cookie recipe.

Let’s use a basic Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. The following ingredients do not include the butter and sugar, as these ingredients are what determines what your cookies out come will be.

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs, room temperature

12 ounces chocolate baking chips

soft and chewy whole grain peanut butter cookie

Image Credit: Soft & Chewy Whole Grain Peanut Butter Cookies – by: An Oregon Cottage

If you want a Thin & Crispy cookie, you add this amount of butter, and sugar, with the addition of brown sugar.

2 1/2 sticks butter, softened

1 1/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

If you want a Soft & Chewy cookie, you add this amount of butter, and sugar, with the addition of brown sugar.

2 sticks butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

soft and chewy whole grain peanut butter cookie

Image Credit: Soft & Chewy Whole Grain Peanut Butter Cookies – by: An Oregon Cottage

If you want a Light & Cakey cookie, you add this amount of butter, and sugar, with the addition of brown sugar.

Take note, that in this adjustment you use unsalted butter.

1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

Baking Cookies 101

How does sugar effect cookies? To answer, we will share a little Cookie 101.  All sugars, either granulated, brown, powder or confectioners, have the ability to attract water. By doing so, sugars attraction of moisture helps keep it away from structure builders of the cookie, like the starch and proteins that are present in the flour and eggs.

The adjustment in the amount of sugar you do or do not put will determine the structure or substance of your baked cookies.

Another suggestion that will help to please your cookie lovers is using room temperature ingredients, particularly the butter and eggs.

How many recipes have you seen that call for room-temperature butter and eggs? Quite a few. Bon Appetit says that it’s a step you should not ignore, as many baked goods start by creaming together butter and sugar, which is made infinitely easier with gently warmed ingredients.

Is creaming the butter and sugar a big deal? Yes it is. Bon Appetit says, “Creaming together butter and sugar with a handheld or stand mixer, for example, should be done before the addition of wetter ingredients, like eggs. Why? The fat in butter holds air, and when whipped, expands. In the creaming process, sharp sugar granules slice through the butter, creating air pockets that ultimately give the pastry lift. Skip that step (or do it half-heartedly) and your end result will be dense and heavy (BonAppetit).

Here is Amanda Grant, editor of The Co-operative Food magazine to show us how to properly cream butter and sugar together.

Now you know how to make a cookie, that all cookie lovers in your life will go for. And you may just become, the Master Baker At Baking The Perfect Cookie.

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National Eggnog Day

National Eggnog Day

The origins of eggnog and the components (ingredients) of the concoction are still debated. Some say it was invented during the medieval times.  The “nog” part of the beverages name is said to have stemmed from the word noggin, a term that meant a small, wooden mug used to serve alcohol. It was also referred to as a Egg Flip, which was the practice of rapidly flipping the mixture between two pitchers to mix it.

In England eggnog was considered the trademark drink of the upper class. James Humes an author and historian writes that the average Londoner rarely saw a glass of milk.

It is also said that eggnog descended from a hot British drink called posset, which consisted of eggs, milk, with the addition of an ale (beer) or wine.

With the addition of alcohol, the eggnog was aged for several weeks, maybe even months. Yes raw eggs were used, but remember, booze or alcohol can both be a preservative and sterilizer. Very few bacteria, including salmonella, are not able to survive in the presence of alcohol, as has been proven in lab experiments at Rockefeller University.

Whatever the origins may be, a great beverage was invented 100’s of years ago, which has became a traditional beverage throughout Canada and the United States this time of year, that is starting in November and being available in the market through the first of January.

Let’s get to “Egg Flipping.” But before we can do that, let’s make some eggnog, and here is what you will need.

6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 to 1 1/2 cup bourbon or rum, optional
Nutmeg and cinnamon stick, to serve

Separate the eggs, putting the yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. Cover the egg whites and refrigerate until needed.

Combine the yolks and the sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Next, add the milk, cream, and liquor (if using) with the egg mixture and mix until combined.

Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. The more liquor you add, the longer it will keep. If you are making non-alcoholic eggnog, store it in a sealed glass container. The beverage should be consumed within a day.

Before serving a glass of eggnog, whisk the reserved egg whites in a mixer on high speed until the whites form stiff peaks, then fold the beaten egg whites into the prepared eggnog and gently stir the whites into the base (this step is optional. You do not have to add the egg whites).

Adding the whipped egg whites will give the eggnog an extra-creamy texture.

Eggnog with nutmeg and a cinnamon stick Serve in individual glasses topped with nutmeg, and a cinnamon stick.

You can also enjoy eggnog with coconut milk, by exchanging out the dairy milk.

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National Cocoa Day With A Chocolate Tiramisu

National Cocoa DayA hot cup of cocoa is the same as a hot cup of chocolate. Today December 13th according to National Day Calendar, it is National  Cocoa Day. What a great month to have such a day, as the day are getting colder, and a cup of hot cocoa seems the hot beverage to recognize. Even more so, that it is a wintry windy and rainy morning outside at the moment.

National Day Calendar notes that in their research on this day, they were unable to find the creator of National Cocoa Day.

But hey, what a great excuse to make a Chocolate Tiramisu, while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate or hot cocoa. If you enjoy the traditional tiramisu prepared with espresso, you’ll excite your taste buds with a chocolate tiramisu!

Here is what you will need to prepare your own Chocolate Tiramisu, while enjoying a nice cup of hot chocolate.

Chocolate Tiramisu

1¾ cup heavy cream, divided

1  cup coconut sugar or granulated sugar

16 ounces mascarpone cheese

¼ tsp. Himalayan salt

2 tsp. vanilla extract

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

24-30 lady fingers

2 cups prepared hot chocolate, strong, cooled to room temperature

With an electric mixer, beat whipping cream with sugar on medium speed until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes.

Mix in salt, vanilla, and mascarpone cheese until combined.

Using a pastry bag, pipe a small amount of the cream mixture into the bottoms of 6 – 10 to 12 ounce dessert glasses.

Break lady fingers into pieces first, so they fit, then dip in hot chocolate and place in a single layer over cream mixture. Pipe in some more cream mixture, repeating layers, ending with the cream mixture.

Top with a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder, and top with shaved dark chocolate or real chocolate sprinkles.

Enjoy at room temperature or chilled.

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National Fudge Day

National Fudge Day

If you do not have a reason to celebrate something today, why not celebrate National Fudge Day! Yes June 16th is the day chosen to celebrate fudge.

Fudge is a splendid confection made with sugar, milk, butter, and your favorite flavoring. Some popular varieties include mixing chocolate with peanut butter, maple, caramel, peppermint, and marshmallow.

Scottish Tablet

Whisky Flavored Scottish Tablet – photo credit: Sweets for Treats

Were you aware that fudge used to be chocolate-less? The modern-day fudge we enjoy evolved from a candy called Scottish Tablet, which originated in the late 17th century.

While the recipes are some what similar, Scottish Tablet has a much harder texture and lacks the most important ingredient, chocolate!

Candy ThermometerPreparing  fudge may seem easy enough, but it does require a candy thermometer, as fudge is very easy to overcook or under cook.

There are some fudge recipes that have been developed for the home cook.

The recipes may include corn syrup, which prevents the process of crystallization, sweet condensed milk, marshmallow cream or other ingredients that guarantee the perfect fudge texture.

Though they do not guarantee the same taste as original fudge!

To get that original fudge flavor, you will need to use a traditional recipe with a candy thermometer or buy your favorite fudge at your local See’s Candy store or favorite equivalent and enjoy National Fudge Day.

Our featured recipe is Easy Chocolate Fudge and here is what you will need.

12 ounces semi-dark chocolate

2 cups coconut sugar

1 cup whole milk

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans

To make things even simpler, replace milk and coconut sugar with a 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk.

Prepare a 8 inch x 8 inch square baking pan lined with foil. Set aside.

Melt chocolate  in a glass bowl over hot boiling water. Once melted, remove hot water from pan and pour melted chocolate into pan and place back over heated element.

Add coconut sugar, and milk. Stir into chocolate, bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to a simmer. Do not stir again.

If you are using a candy thermometer, place it  into the pan and cook until temperature reaches 238 degrees.

If you are not using a thermometer, then cook fudge until a drop it in cold water forms a soft ball. Feel the ball with your fingers to make sure it is the right consistency. It should flatten when pressed between your fingers.

Remove from heat. Add nuts, butter and vanilla extract. Beat with a wooden spoon until the fudge loses its sheen. Do not under beat.

If using the sweetened condensed milk, just add to chocolate after it has melted, and stir in. Remove from heat and stir in nuts and vanilla. When using the sweetened condensed milk, there is no need for a candy thermometer.

Pour into prepared pan and let cool. Then place pan in the refrigerator for about 2 hours or until firm. Lift foil and all from pan, and cut into about 50 squares. Save fudge wrapped in plastic wrap. 

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Toasted Coconut Banana Pudding

Toasted Coconut Banana Pudding - Top View

Our pudding is referred to as “Toasted Coconut,” because it has that appearance of being toasted as we used coconut sugar. Coconut sugar is like brown sugar in appearance, but doesn’t have the same effect on blood glucose in the blood stream. In other words, it does not spike your sugar levels.

The Glycemic Index of coconut sugar is 35 as reported by the Philippine Coconut Authority, the largest supplier of coconut sugar along with Indonesia. 35 is classified as a low glycemic food.

Coconut sugar has many natural occurring nutrients, including magnessium, potassium, zinc, iron, B vitamins, and amino acids. Because it is unprocessed, the nutrient content is intact, unlike refined white table sugar.

Coconut sugar is actually more sustainable than sugar cane. The coconut palm tree produces up to 75% more sugar per acre than cane sugar, while only using 20% of the resources.

Now for the featured recipe: Toasted Coconut Banana Pudding, and here is what you will need.

1/2 cup organic coconut sugar

1/3 cup organic arrowroot starch

1/2 teaspoon organic Himalayan salt

3 cups silk Coconut milk (or your preferred organic brand)

3 tablespoons organic coconut butter

1 teaspon organic vanilla extract

About 30 to 40 organic vanilla wafers

3 ripe organic bananas

Toasted organic coconut for garnish (optional)

Organic heavy cream, whipped for topping (optional)

mixing ingredients in sauce pan to make Toased Coconut Banana Pudding

Whisk together coconut sugar, starch and salt in a medium saucepan.

Slowly whisk in coconut milk, oil, and vanilla. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly.

Lower heat and simmer whisking occasionally until mixture thickens, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

layering sliced bananas and vanilla cookiesTo assemble spread a layer of vanilla wafers in a 9 X 9 inch square baking dish, or a 9-inch round baking dish (your choice) top with half of the banana slices and half of the pudding.

Continue with another layer of vanilla wafers followed by remaining bananas and ending with remaining pudding, spreading to cover all banana slices.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 to 5 hours or overnight.

Toasted Coconut Banana Pudding - Side ViewTo serve, line a dessert glass or small dessert bowl with some vanilla cookies, and top with fresh organic whipped cream and toasted coconut.

This is a gluten free and all organic dessert. Enjoy!!

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Gluten Free Carrot Cake with a Cream Cheese Frosting

Gluten Free Carrot Cake with a Cream Cheese Frosting

Just because you can’t have gluten, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your favorite desserts! For health reasons I have chosen to eat as much gluten free breads and desserts as I can. If gluten does bother you, then it is causing inflammation to your digestive system.

The carrot cake we are featuring was made with an all-purpose baking flour that consists of garbanzo bean flour, whole grain sweet white sorghum flour and fava bean flour. To replace the gluten, potato starch and tapioca starch was used. We also used oat flour, and coconut flour.

Here is what you will need to make Gluten Free Carrot Cake with a Cream Cheese Frosting.

3/4 cup all-purpose gluten free flour

3/4 oat flour

1/2 cup coconut flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt

1 1/2 teaspoon 5 star chai spices

1/2 cup dried shredded unsweetened coconut

1/2 to 1 cup mixed dried fruits (Trader Joe’s has a package of mixed fruits that have blueberries, cranberries, cherries, and golden raisins)

4 medium eggs

1 cup coconut sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

2 cups shredded organic carrots

3/4 cup pecan pieces, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

 

melting coconut oil

First melt the coconut oil. Coconut oil is solid below 76 degrees. To use it in baking it is necessary first to melt it. What we have done to melt the oil, is first place a small sauce pan over medium heat, and heat the pan for about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add the 1/4 cup of solid coconut oil, and begin swirling the pan until the coconut butter, has melted to oil. Put aside.

mixing gluten free dry ingredients with dried fruit

In a large mixing bowl, add the first 8 ingredients from the list above, and mix till well incorporated. Then add the dry fruit and mix in, add nuts if using, mix in and set aside.

Next shred the two cups of carrots and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, cream together eggs, coconut sugar, applesauce, and coconut oil. Once well incorporated, add shredded carrots, mix in, and set aside.

Prepare two 9-inch glass pie plates with parchment paper on the bottom, and coconut butter smeared around the sides. Set the pie plates aside.

Now returning to the wet ingredients, add it slowly to the dry ingredients and stir. Divide the gluten free cake mixture between the prepared pie plates. Place into heated oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until a inserted knife comes out clean. Let cool for 30 minutes before adding frosting.

Here is what you will need for the Cream Cheese Frosting.

8 ounces cream cheese, soften

1/2 cup Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon real vanilla

1 cup organic icing sugar (powdered organic cane sugar)

In a mixer, add soft cream cheese, yogurt, and vanilla and cream together. Next add icing sugar and mix in.

preparing to add frosting to cakePlace on of the cakes on a large serving platter, and cut around the outside of the cake to cut off any uneven edges. Top with frosting and pecan pieces. Next place other cake over the frosted one, and continue frosting.

close up of Gluten Free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese FrostingPlace around the outer edge of the frosted Gluten Free Carrot Cake pecan pieces. Using a yellow and purple organic carrot, shred some pieces and place in the center of the frosted cake.

Serve and enjoy.

slice of Gluten free Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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