Cooking 101 – Vanilla Extract, Vanilla Paste, or Vanilla Beans? What’s the difference?

vanilla_extract_paste_bean_difference_mfb

You think that all vanilla is the same, right?  Well, I’m here to dispel that myth right now. All vanilla is NOT created equal.

The question is, when do you use vanilla extract, vanilla paste, or vanilla beans?  And what’s the difference? (My inner teacher is about to come out. Ready?)

Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is a liquid vanilla flavoring that is usually made by macerating and percolating vanilla beans with a solution of ethyl alcohol and water.  It is available in “pure” or “artificial” varieties.

vanilla_pure_mfb

Pure vanilla extract uses alcohol to extract the vanilla compounds from the beans and make the liquid flavoring. In order for the extract to be considered “pure” by the US Food and Drug Administration, it must contain a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100 g of vanilla beans per litre.  The alcohol is baked off during the baking process leaving a mild vanilla flavor.

vanilla_artificial_mfb

Artificial vanilla extract is not made from vanilla beans at all. It is actually a byproduct of the pulp and paper industry and is derived from coal tar. (It’s evil, I tell ya.)

If given the choice between the two, always choose pure vanilla extract. The difference in cost is minimal, but the difference in flavor and health benefits is huge.

Because vanilla extract is the most affordable, is usually used in baking where the vanilla flavor is not the dominant flavor but is overshadowed by other flavors like cinnamon, chocolate or other spices. ie: brownies, cookies, or muffins.

Vanilla Bean Paste

Vanilla bean paste is made by infusing the vanilla bean caviar into a sweet sugar syrup which is usually thickened with a natural thickener.   Vanilla bean paste is more expensive than vanilla extract but is cheaper than vanilla bean pods.

vanilla_paste_mfb

Because vanilla bean paste is made with the vanilla bean caviar, it will contain the indicative black/brown flecks and will add a more pronounced vanilla flavor in baked goods. It is best used when you want an unmistakable and noticeable vanilla flavor. ie: vanilla cake, shortbread cookies, jams & jellies.

I’ll be honest, I use vanilla bean paste almost exclusively. I rarely use vanilla extract and I reserve my vanilla beans for more special occasions and specialty desserts.

Vanilla Bean Pods

Vanilla bean pods are derived from orchids, of the genus Vanilla, which grows as a vine. Vanilla plants are only grown in Mexico and Central and South America, despite many attempts to cultivate the plant in other parts of the world. Vanilla is the world’s second most expensive spice following saffron, because growing and cultivating the beans is very labor-intensive and will include pollinating the plants by hand.

vanilla_beans_mfb

Vanilla bean pods, which are actually the dried fruit of the vanilla plant, can be used whole to infuse flavor into sugars, syrups, or jams and jellies.

Once split in half, the vanilla bean caviar which is the tiny black/brown flecks, can be scraped out and used for the most intense vanilla flavor. A little bit will go a long way in terms of flavor intensity, aroma, and dimension.

Vanilla bean caviar is best used in everything  whatever your budget will allow, because the beans can be quite expensive.

You should now feel informed enough to go through your cupboard and toss away that bottle of artificial vanilla extract that you bought and replace it with 1 bottle of pure vanilla extract, 1 bottle of vanilla bean paste, and a couple of vanilla bean pods.

vanilla_extract_paste_bean_mfb

Look for vanilla bean pods and vanilla bean paste at your local gourmet food store, grocery store, or buy them here on Amazon. (affiliated links)

Cooking 101 – How To Make Whipped Cream a.k.a. Chantilly Cream

how_to_make_whipped_cream_9_mfbIt was brought to my attention the other day that not everyone knows the basics of cooking, baking, or even basic kitchen terminology. Whaaaaatttt?????

What is a soft peak?

Why does bread need to rise?

Are all vanilla extracts the same?

Potato ricer? Is it potatoes or rice?

What is that big white thing next to the sink with the door on the front and the four round things on top?

So I’m going to teach you. Or them. Or anyone who wants to know. Beginning with whipped cream. Because life is better with whipped cream in it.

I will give directions based on having a stand mixer, but a hand-held mixer and metal or glass bowl will follow the same directions. Whipped cream can also be made by hand with a wire whisk, but then you end up with forearms like Popeye, and unless that’s the look you’re going for, I’d suggest investing in a stand or hand-held mixer.

how_to_make_whipped_cream_1_mfb1.  Begin by chilling your bowl and wire whisk in the fridge for 20 minutes, or in the freezer for 5 minutes.  This will help the cream remain chilled and will encourage the cream to thicken faster.

2. Pour 1 cup of whipping cream into the chilled bowl.  Whipping cream, also known as heavy cream, must contain at least 30% butterfat to make whipped cream.  Lower fat varieties will not whip well.

3. Begin by whipping the cream on medium-high speed for 1 minute.

how_to_make_whipped_cream_2_mfb4. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar to the bowl and continue mixing on medium-high speed for 1 minute. Bubbles should now be forming around the edge of the bowl.

how_to_make_whipped_cream_4_mfb5.  Add 1 teaspoon of good quality vanilla extract to the bowl. You may also use vanilla bean paste or the caviar of one vanilla bean.  If vanilla is not your thing, you can also flavor your whipped cream with a variety of other extracts like coconut, orange, or almond, or you can go “au natural” and leave the extract out altogether.

6.  Continue mixing on medium-high speed for 1 minute.

whip_it_mfb7. This step is optional. If you are going to be using your whipped cream within a day you can omit this step.  However, if you are concerned about the whipped cream separating and thinning before it is eaten, you can add a stabilizer like Dr. Oetker’s Whip It.  This will prevent the whipped cream from collapsing and separating. There are many ways to stabilize whipped cream including gelatin, powdered milk, or confectioner’s (icing) sugar, but I prefer to use Whip It because it is easy and convenient. Whip It can be found in the baking aisle next to the puddings. (Sorry about photographing the French side of the package only.)

how_to_make_whipped_cream_5_mfb8. If you’re adding a stabilizer, then add it now and mix for 1 minute. You will notice that the cream is getting thicker at this point.

how_to_make_whipped_cream_6_mfb9. Turn the speed of the mixer up to high and whip the cream until it is thick and will hold it’s shape. Be careful not to over whip the cream or you will be the proud maker of some sweet vanilla butter.

how_to_make_whipped_cream_10_mfb10.  Pat yourself on the back, you are done!  You have made, without too much effort, a delicious topping for pies, cakes, french toast, or on top of a delicious cappuccino. Enjoy!

Use your freshly made whipped cream with:

eggnog_cream_puffs_5_mfbberry_cheesecake_5_mfbcoconut_cream_pie_slicePumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Saucespicy_hot_chocolate_4_mfbpumpkin_french_toast_4_mfb