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Make mine vanilla.

The dependable flavoring bottle dumps a taste of sweetness into baked goods, ice cream and sauces.Now, with the help of Ken Cook and his former career in the food industry, vanilla comes in a powdered form.

Powdered vanilla is an instant topping for French toast or waffles, a glaze for vegetables or a provocative new flavor in a vinaigrette.

But in baking, powdered vanilla wins blue ribbons for flavor enhancement.

The powdered product maintains its flavor throughout the cooking process, while liquid vanilla, with its alcohol base, evaporates during baking.

Consumers are slowly warming up to the new form of vanilla, according to a spokesperson at Spoons and Spice. "We sell more each month, but the majority of our sales are to people who have used it or have a friend who has. It's a resale item because most people don't even know it exists."

Powdered vanilla substitutes directly for liquid vanilla in any recipe, but the intensity of the flavor lingers.

Cook learned about the diversity in vanilla flavorings during his tenure with Dreyer's Ice Cream.

"Being in the ice cream business means being in the vanilla business," Cook explained, "because a third of all ice cream sold is vanilla. So many imitations sat on supermarket shelves, and too many commercial ice cream makers were dissatisfied with the vanilla flavorings available."

Vanilla sources vary widely, but quality vanilla extract begins with an orchid grown primarily in Madagascar. Beans grow from the flower and are hand-pollinated between sunrise and noon on a single day of the year.

Mature beans are then harvested, dried and sorted by hand. The entire process from planting to bottling takes five years.

Vanilla extract is made by dissolving the essential flavor components of the beans in an alcohol-water mixture and then separating the residue from the liquid. Pure vanilla contains 35 percent alcohol and 13 percent vanilla bean extractives.

In the powdered product, no alcohol is used, and the vanilla bean concentrate is blended with a dextrose carrier.

Though powdered vanilla or pure vanilla extract is an expensive investment, Cook maintains the premium quality is worth the contribution it makes in a recipe.

"Imitation vanillas have no set standard for strength and may or may not contain any natural vanilla extract," the flavoring connoisseur says. "You are never sure what you are getting in terms of flavor."

Consumers should also be wary of inexpensive vanillas from Mexico. Although the vanilla beans grown in that country are of high quality, some extracts are adulterated with coumarin, a plant derivative with vanilla flavor that is mildly toxic and has been shown to cause liver damage. The FDA banned the use of coumarin in the stateside manufacture of vanilla.

The vanilla bean itself boasts a variety of uses and can be reused several times before its flavor declines. Simply wash it off, dry thoroughly and place it in a jar of sugar to keep for the next time you need vanilla. When used repeatedly, the seemingly expensive beans become less costly.

Basic ways to use vanilla beans:

- Vanilla sugar - Slit a bean lengthwise with the tip of a sharp knife; spread it open and then place it in a jar of either granulated or confectioners sugar, using about 2 cups per bean. Set aside tightly covered for six weeks. The bean is so potent you can keep adding fresh sugar for months. Use the sugar to flavor milk and other beverages, fruit, baked goods and puddings.

- Vanilla extract - To prepare your own vanilla extract, place one split bean in 3/4 cup brandy, rum or vodka. Leave tightly covered for about six weeks before using. Use in place of pure vanilla extract.

- Flavoring custards, ice creams and puddings - Cut a split bean into 2-inch pieces and scald with the milk or cream (2 cups per bean); remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes for a more complete infusion of the vanilla flavor. Remove the bean; dry and store in sugar.

- Flavoring cakes and cookies - With a knife, scrape out the pulp in the center of the bean (the pulp is actually a mass of tiny seeds - the little specks often seen in premium ice creams). Cream the seeds with the butter and sugar. The seeds from 1 bean will flavor a recipe made with about 2 cups of flour. Because the remaining pod has an intense vanilla flavor even without the seeds, store it in sugar and reuse it in cooking.

- Vanilla syrup - For vanilla-flavored sugar syrup, perfect for poaching fruit, add 1 split bean cut in 2-inch pieces to a saucepan containing 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar; bring to a boil. Add prepared fruit and simmer until tender. Remove the bean; dry and store in sugar.

- Extract equivalent - Vanilla beans and pure vanilla extract are interchangeable in many recipes. A vanilla bean is roughly equivalent to 2 to 3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract.

Note: Powdered vanilla is available at Spoons and Spice, Bakers Cash and Carry, and Orson Gygi as well as by mail through Maid of Scandinavia. Prices range from $3.95 a pound for an artificial flavoring at Gygi's to $7.99 for a 5-ounce bottle of Cook's Premium vanilla extract at Spoons and Spice. McCormick & Co. expects their powdered vanilla product to be available in supermarkets by midsummer.



Vanilla Souffle with Vanilla Sauce


1 1/2 cups half-and-half

2 tablespoons milk

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla powder

1 teaspoon cornstarch


3/4 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup sugar

4 egg yolks, beaten

5 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Fresh or frozen strawberries

Freshly grated nutmeg, optional For sauce, heat half-and-half to boiling; remove from heat. Combine the milk, egg, sugar, vanilla and cornstarch, stirring until smooth. Stir into hot half-and-half. Return to the heat and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, stirring 1-2 minutes or until thickened.

For souffle, scald milk and vanilla. Melt butter; stir in flour until smooth. Blend flour and butter into milk and then the sugar, heat to boiling, stirring constantly until thick; remove from heat. Whisk in egg yolks until blended. Beat egg whites until foamy, add cream of tartar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Gently fold custard mixture into the whites until combined. Pour into a greased and sugared 1 1/2-quart souffle dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve immediately with warm vanilla sauce; garnish with strawberries.

Orange-Creme Tea Cake

1/3 cup butter or margarine, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 of an 8-inch vanilla bean, split lengthwise

1/3 cup sour cream

2 eggs

2 teaspoons grated orange peel

11/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons milk

1/3 cup finely chopped almonds

Vanilla-Orange Creme:

1 cup whipping cream

11/2 tablespoons sugar

11/2 teaspoons powdered vanilla

1 teaspoon grated orange peel Cream butter and sugar. With the tip of a knife scrape seeds from vanilla bean; add seeds to butter mixture. Beat until light and fluffy; beat in sour cream, eggs and orange peel until blended. Combine dry ingredients and add alternately with milk, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Pour batter into greased, floured 8-inch loaf pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 50-55 minutes. Place pan on a rack; cool in pan for 10 minutes; turn out onto rack to finish cooling. Cut loaf horizontally into 3 layers; place bottom layer on serving plate. Spread with half of the Vanilla-Orange Creme. Cover with middle layer; spread with remaining creme. Garnish with orange slices if desired.

For filling, whip cream in chilled bowl until slightly thickened. Add sugar, vanilla powder and orange peel; beat until stiff peaks form. Makes 8-10 servings.

Vanilla Crisscrossed Peanut Butter Cookies

1 1/4 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon vanilla powder, divided

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1 egg Stir together flour, soda, salt and 1 teaspoon of the vanilla powder. Beat butter for 30 seconds; add peanut butter and sugars; beat until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. Add dry ingredients to beaten mixture; beat until well blended. Shape dough into 1-inch balls; place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Grease the tine of a fork, then dip into the remaining teaspoon of vanilla powder; use fork to press down and make a crisscross on top of the cookie. Re-dip the fork in vanilla powder for each cookie. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Makes 4 dozen cookies.

Vanilla Bean Vinaigrette

1 (8-inch) vanilla bean, cut lengthwise

1 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

3/4 cup tarragon leaves, crushed

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon sugar In small jar combine all ingredients; cover and shake. Refrigerate for at least 2 days before tossing with salad greens, chilled cooked green beans, carrots or beets.