Vanilla scented candles, body lotions, soap, notes in perfume and with more than 300 complex flavor components, pure vanilla is everything but plain. It enhances flavors in a variety of foods, particularly those with coffee and nuts, and smooths out citrus’acidity. Its many tropical varieties will still make a big difference in any baking. That little bottle of vanilla extract in your pantry is only the beginning.

The world of vanilla is so much roomier, spanning the tropics from Mexico to Madagascar and Tahiti to Tonga. In addition to powders, it comes in three other forms, the first, being the ideal form, is paste, that is if you don’t want the mess of scraping seeds from the pods but still want the gourmet look with the flecks, it’s what chefs use, it is easier and equivalent to extract 1:1. Second, extract, being the most common form. For the best flavor, make sure the flavor says “pure”, Its not as strong as beans, so if a recipe calls for a whole bean and you only have extract, use three times its volume or 1 tbsp. Third, whole beans, which have the most flavor, it shines in recipes like the classic vanilla-infused Creme Brulee.

Vanilla plants grow best within 20 degrees of the equator, and each country’s beans have their own distinctive flavors. Vanilla from Madagascar and Indonesia, for instance, boast the most “vanillin”, the signature flavor compound in beans. Mexican beans have half as much vanillin but are smoky, fruity, and wine-y. Tahitian vanilla has a lot less vanillin, too, but is famed for its more perfumed, floral flavor.

For hundreds of years, Mexico had a monopoly on vanilla beans. Although the vanilla orchid could grow on vines in other moist tropical climates around the world, only a rare type of bee in Mexico could pollinate the tricky trumpet-shape plant to produce their bashful beans. That is, until 1841, when people realized they could hand-pollinate the plant using a toothpick-like stick. A method still used today. It is one of the world’s most labor-intense and expensive crops-second only to saffron. It’s the fruit of the orchid that has to be hand pollinated and that blossoms only a few hours a year. The pods are then later harvested, also by hand, and cured for three to six months, until they shrink to one-quarter of their original size, lose 80 % of their moisture, and develop their subtle aroma.

In our recipes, it will surprise you that there is more to vanilla than the old ice cream standby.

The Recipes
Classic vanilla-infused Creme Brulee 6 portions/prep. total 6 hrs, 30 min.

1 ½ cups whipping cream

2/3 cup plus ¼ cup sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste

Pinch of salt

6 large egg yolks


1. Position an oven rack slightly lower than center of the oven; preheat to 300*

2. Whisk together whipping cream, 2/3 cup of sugar, the milk, vanilla and salt in a saucepan over medium heat just until boiling. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.

3. Briefly whisk egg yolks in a bowl. Slowly pour in cream mixture, whisking constantly, then divide among eight 4oz. Ramekins set in a roasting pan.
Put pan on rack in oven. Fill pan with enough hot water too come halfway up sides of ramekins.

4. Bake until softly set, about 40 minutes, let custard cool in water bath to room temperature, about 1 hour. Chill, covered, at least hours or up to 32 hours.

5. Sprinkle each ramekin with about ½ tbsp. Sugar. Use a kitchen torch to lightly scorch and caramelize sugar until melted, about one minute, let cool slightly and serve.

Yummy Bread Pudding with vanilla sauce 12 portions/prep. total 1 hr. 30 minutes

The extract in your pantry is probably from Madagascar, the world’s largest producer. It’s often labeled “Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract”, because it’s from the Bourbon Island in the western Indian Ocean.

For Bread Pudding:

3 eggs, lightly beaten

3 cups milk or light cream

1 cup white sugar

½ cup butter, melted

2 tbsp. packed light brown sugar

½ tsp. Cinnamon

10 slices hearty farmhouse-style bread, toasted and cut into cubes (about 9 cups)

1 cup of raisins (optional)

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup white chocolate chips

For Vanilla Sauce

1 ¼ cups milk

½ cup light brown sugar

1 egg

3 tbsp. Butter

1 tbsp. Flour

pinch cinnamon

pinch salt

1 tbsp. Madagascar Bourbon pure vanilla


Preheat oven to 375*.

1. Grease a 2 qt. baking dish.

2. Whisk together eggs, milk, white sugar, butter, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Gently stir in bread cubes and chocolate chips and/or raisins. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish.

3. Bake 20 minutes. Cover with foil and continue baking for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until brown and set in the middle. Let cool 10-15 minutes.

Make the Sauce:

4. While pudding bakes, whisk together milk, brown sugar, egg, butter, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook, whisking constantly, until sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon, (about 6 minutes), Stir in Vanilla. Pour over warm bread pudding.

Happy Fooding! Happy vanilla-ing! Fall is here, where did summer go? Drop me a line with your recipes, ideas and love. [email protected] And the last words~I often wear perfume, because I am sensitive to smells, but vanilla has a warmth to it, and it’s inviting and soft.~Tessa Virtue



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