How much thought do you put into vanilla extract? If you are the average bear, not much. Well, if you are a bear, probably none at all. In our house, we think about vanilla a lot. It is one of our favorite flavors and we probably spend way too much time thinking about it.
Rich’s mother asked us for Christmas ideas in November (she is on the ball with all things, but especially Christmas shopping). I had seen a vanilla extract sampler with one bottle each of Madagascar, Tahitian and Mexican extracts in the King Arthur Flour catalog and thought it would be perfect for Rich. I like vanilla, but Rich likes it a LOT. When he bakes anything, he usually doubles the vanilla. And if I ask his opinion about adapting a recipe, he always wants to increase the vanilla. (I wonder how many more times I can write the word “vanilla” before I finish this post?)
I was right about the success of the present. Rich was thrilled. We both have been having fun using the various extracts in different recipes. The extracts smell a little different from each other in the bottles, but they smell wildly different when they are cooking in something. We keep thinking we should make something like custard, vanilla pudding or ice cream with each different extract so we can do side by side taste tests. Are we food nerds, or what?
Last week I made waffles and used the Tahitian extract. The whole house smelled like those fabulous ice cream shops that make their own cones. The waffles didn’t taste exactly like ice cream cones – they were better. The Tahitian extract is more floral, with a lighter scent but a deeper vanilla flavor than typical vanilla extract.
The Madagascar extract is closest to “regular” vanilla. It is vanilla, but certainly not plain vanilla. Try adding a little more than the recipe calls for and see what it does for chocolate chip cookies, brownies or your favorite cake.
The Mexican extract has a deeper, fuller scent and flavor than the other two. It is more assertive, if you can call a flavor like vanilla assertive. So far I have used it in flourless chocolate cakes, homemade caramel sauce and the icing for biscuit cinnamon rolls. It pairs particularly well with chocolate and cinnamon. Strangely enough that was what the label said. I guess sometimes the label writers really know what they are talking about.
Tonight we had blueberry pancakes for dinner, with a little Tahitian vanilla in the batter. I have been adding a teaspoon of vanilla to my pancake batter since I happened to see a recipe for pancakes that was almost identical to mine, with the addition of vanilla. I can’t imagine why we hadn’t thought of that, given our crazy vanilla obsession fascination. The whole house again smells like an ice cream shop.
We don’t have a favorite. It would be like choosing which kid we liked best, if we had more than one. Why should we have to choose between our vanillas? Like children, we love each vanilla for its own unique attributes. That might be going a little far, but we are having fun playing around with them.
How do you have fun in the kitchen?