smitten with vanilla
Bright Earth Chef’s Grade Vanilla Powder is seriously the tastiest ingredient on earth. It might be surprising that this taste sensation, this bringer-of-joy to my baking and cooking world, is none other than simple vanilla.
Though it is often thought of as bland, vanilla is actually an incredibly complex flavor. According to Steve Ettlinger in his book Twinkie: Deconstructed, vanillin is the most prominent flavor component of vanilla, but there are 216 other identified components– all of which are blended into our singular idea of ‘vanilla.’
Vanilla beans grow in the tropical regions of our world, and are the result of the world’s only fruiting orchid. Vanilla also has the distinction of being the most labor-intensive crop in the world– hence the hefty price tag. The vanilla orchid flowers- which open for one day only- need to be hand-pollinated and then allowed to ripen for nine months on the vine. On the vine they look like long green beans, fat and juicy- and totally inedible. Once picked, the beans need to ‘cure’ for months to ferment and create all those delicious aromas and flavor compounds (much like cacao). Madagascar is the top producer of vanilla beans, and Indonesia is second; Tahiti, Mexico, and the aloha state of Hawaii also produce vanilla. I had the joy of seeing a vanilla farm while on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, and I was stunned: hundreds of trees with vanilla orchid vines wrapped around the trunks; unfortunately they were not flowering or fruiting on my visit.
Though nearly every baking recipe calls for- and deserves- vanilla extract, this ground vanilla is a wholly different product. The ground vanilla is the insides of those pricey vanilla beans- teeny little specks that dot frostings and vanilla ice creams. When recipes call for vanilla beans it usually requires the fairly arduous project of cutting and scraping the insides of the beans (and feeling like you are somehow wasting this precious ingredient). But with ground vanilla, your vanilla specks are ready to go and be adored in frostings, cremes, and baked goods. If you are feeling indulgent you can also it add to coffee, tea, and oatmeal. Though it is incredibly delicious, it is a beautifully intense flavor, so don’t add too much or it can overpower your food or drink.
Bright Earth has long been a favorite company: they have a diverse line of raw superfoods including cacao, acai, lucuma, yacon syrup, mesquite, noni, nuts and other raw superfood products like trail mix bars, chocolate candy and paste, and more. Their cacao is great for raw energy bars, chocolate candy, and other raw food treats.
How to use the ground vanilla:
For coffee or tea: Add 1/2 teaspoon ground vanilla per cup of liquid; if you are using loose-leaf tea or french press coffee, mix the vanilla with the ground coffee or tea leaves before brewing; let it set for as long as you can wait, then brew and enjoy.
For baking: For recipes that call for vanilla extract use half the amount of ground vanilla- it is much stronger than extract- and add a tiny bit of liquid to make up for the loss of extract. For example, while making my favorite scones I use about 2 teaspoons of ground vanilla and add 1 Tablespoon extra of liquid (water, soymilk, or juice) to make up for what the recipe calls for. The ground vanilla works best in baked goods where you can REALLY taste the difference: light scones, cakes, frostings, and puddings. For cookies, bars and brownies, stick to vanilla extract.
Vegan Vanilla Bean Frosting
1/2 cup vegan shortening (Earth Balance and Spectrum are great)
1/2 cup vegan margarine (Earth Balance again)
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2 + teaspoons ground vanilla powder
1-2 Tablespoons soy milk
- Whisk shortening and margarine until combined and light. Add 1 cup powdered sugar and beat for three more minutes; add vanilla and 1 Tablespoon soymilk. Beat 5-7 more minutes until fluffy, adding more powdered sugar until desired consistency is reached.
- Keep cool until ready to pipe, but let it come to nearly room temperature if you are spreading flat onto a cake, brownie, etc.
- Notes: you can beat with a hand mixer or with a whisk and some muscle- the results are pretty similar with vegan frosting like this. For a great cupcake recipe, check out my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe here.