That's so vanilla - A common phrase used to describe something that is boring or common. Funny that, considering that vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron!
Initially I was definitely one of those people who took vanilla for granted. I blame commercialism! When there's just too much of the same thing out there it becomes common and boring, and well, vanilla! It really is a shame though because most of what we consume that is vanilla flavoured isn't actually made from pure vanilla. So really, you probably don't know what real vanilla tastes like! Once you have real vanilla, trust me you'll be hooked. I still remember my first real vanilla experience. It was when I made creme brûlée a few years ago. I got vanilla beans especially for the occasion. It was the best decision ever! I've never taken vanilla for granted since that day.
Traditional vanilla extract is common place in any bakers pantry. It is made by submerging vanilla beans into alcohol for a lengthy period. The vanilla flavour is drawn out by the alcohol and the resulting brown liquid is what you know as vanilla extract. Most extracts are filtered to remove the little black seeds, while you might find some others that leave the seeds in. You'll notice some bottles say "vanilla extract with vanilla seeds." Vanilla paste takes it one step further. It's much like the vanilla extract with seeds, but in a paste form. It's a lot more intense that the regular vanilla extract. These 3 types of vanilla are what you will find in every super market nation wide. Sadly all of them contain alcohol as that is the preferred method to extract the vanilla flavour. I, personally, am not comfortable using the extracts that contain alcohol, even though the amount is minimal. This leaves few options for people like me. Most non-alcoholic vanilla, aka vanilla flavoured essence, doesn't have much flavour in it and smells rather fake. Of course I couldn't use the entire vanilla bean every time I wanted to bake something! So I took my search abroad and discovered vanilla powder! Vanilla powder is basically vanilla bean that has been dried and crushed to a powder. Perfect! I still like the idea of having it in liquid form, so to get maximum vanilla flavour I use a combination of vanilla flavoured essence and vanilla powder. The flavour is super intense and the little specks of vanilla in the finished product is definitely visually appealing!
You'll notice most of my recipes call for 1 tsp of vanilla, but it doesn't specify the type. This is because I want you to use the best vanilla you have on hand. Whether it's essence, extract, powder or paste, they will all work. The type and quality of vanilla you use really does make a difference to the end product so choose wisely. If you're not fussed about the alcohol content, there are several affordable good quality vanilla pastes and extracts available at the super market. To help you out on what's what, I've listed the types of vanilla available in order of best flavour to least flavour below. Next time you're topping up you baking pantry with vanilla, look at your options at the supermarket and pick a better one!
Types of vanilla
Vanilla Beans - the whole bean which has been dried. Look for plum soft pods as they will yield the best flavour. The beans are perfect for things like cream brûlée or liquid type desserts like panna cotta. It's expensive, but the most intense vanilla flavour out, so save it for special occasions.
Vanilla Powder - ground dried vanilla bean. The next best thing after the whole bean. A bit more pricey than your average vanilla extract, but it gives amazing flavour and it goes a long way! Vanilla powder can be used in all types of desserts and baking.
Vanilla Bean Paste - a thick vanilla paste made with alcohol and the pulp of the vanilla bean. About as good as the vanilla powder. Can be used in all types of desserts and baking.
Vanilla Essence/Extract - the most common type of vanilla. It's basically alcohol that has been infused with vanilla. It's on step down from the vanilla paste. Some come with bits of vanilla bean but most don't. Can be used in all types of desserts and baking.
Vanilla Flavoured Essence - This isn't actually vanilla, it's vanilin which has a more "synthetic" flavour as the infusion is done with liquids other than alcohol. Yields a very light vanilla flavour. Can be used in all types of desserts and baking.
Until next time