Falling in love with vanilla

Ari LeVaux - 02/13/2020
Falling in love with vanilla
Chocolate steals the show on Valentine’s Day, while vanilla plays the Cinderella. The rest of the year isn’t much different. This is wrong in so many ways, but there is an easy solution to the imbalance: Double the vanilla. In your Valentine’s Day chocolate, in your Cream of Wheat, and any other time where sweetness – or the flavor of sweetness – is dominant.
Vanilla gives unselfishly and helps its teammates succeed. Double the vanilla, and you will
double the shine. That goes triply true for chocolate sauce. But if you add chocolate to
vanilla sauce, the vanilla sauce disappears, replaced by the best chocolate sauce ever, and few will notice the strong vanilla base.
Vanilla also improves non-chocolate delights. After all, vanilla comes from orchids – plants with some of the world’s most celebrated sexual organs. Orchids are not easy to grow (neither is the cacao plant, for that matter). Orchids depend on a mature forest overstory and need to be hand-pollinated. The once high price of vanilla enticed more farmers into the industry, which crashed when the processed food industry embraced artificial vanilla – in part because disasters keep befalling vanilla farmers, disrupting the supply chain.
Needless to say, there is a difference in flavor between real and fake vanilla. Real vanilla contains more than 250 organic components, while artificial vanilla contains only vanillin. Whenever possible, use fair trade vanilla. It will set you back about 5 bucks a pod, but remember, it took at least three years to grow it.
Vanilla comes from the orchid’s seed pods, which are chocolate brown. Yet for some reason this concentrated powerhouse of flavor is usually represented as white, like in vanilla ice cream, as if a flavor this big can simply be invisible. It may have a boring reputation, but the quiet penetration of vanilla has made our plain Cinderella the world’s best-selling ice cream flavor.
A 2017 news release from the International Dairy Foods Association credited vanilla ice cream’s popularity to its ability to enhance other desserts and treats. “It tastes great topped by whipped cream and fudge sauce in a sundae, with root beer in a float or atop a warm slice of apple pie,” Cary Frye, vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs for the IDFA, said.
The only time that it’s possible to add too much vanilla is when it’s in the form of alcohol extract. In that case the problem can usually be solved with added sugar. For the purposes of doubling, and perhaps quadrupling, the vanilla, I prefer glycerin extract. Vanilla powder is also for sale in the baking goods section.
One morning, I tripled the amount of vanilla in the kids’ French toast, from a teaspoon to 1 tablespoon, and they didn’t notice. The next morning, I doubled it again, and they said I could still add more. I ran out of bread before I reached their point of saturation, so the next day I added a tablespoon of vanilla to the batter for two servings of pancakes.
“I don’t taste it,” said boy No. 1, who was already done with his serving.
“It’s good. But needs more, actually,” said No. 2, the cook in the family. He proceeded to arrange his pancakes into a sculpture, down which the maple syrup ran and pooled like a garden fountain.
The bowl of pancake batter had enough left over for one more pancake. I added another tablespoon of vanilla. The consistency immediately became more runny, but since I make a thick batter, it was fine. The batter also darkened a shade.
The pancake emanated a pleasant vanilla perfume and had a more chewy consistency, probably because of the glycerin. Son No. 1 was no longer finished. We tore it apart like hyenas on a carcass. The pancake clearly tasted sweeter because of the vanilla, even though it added no actual sweetness. The next morning, I added chocolate chips to the batter and skipped the maple syrup, for roughly the equivalent amount of sugar in the pancakes, but with an extra decadent feel.
After the kids got on the bus, things took a more adult turn. I started with a simple chocolate paste of cocoa powder, sugar and cream, mixed until stiff like truffle
ganache. I then proceeded to double, and redouble, the vanilla, adding it like a drunk pouring liquor straight into a mixed drink. The chocolate got progressively richer. And stronger. As did my buzz. By the time I added coffee, my smile had pretty much turned into a circle.
The above process is half recipe, half science project, and half journey of self-discovery. It’s a way of finding out if there really is such a thing as too much vanilla.
Meanwhile, I will leave you with an easy way to enjoy vanilla flavor straight from the pod, by extracting it yourself with sugar, which, more than chocolate, is the true soulmate of our Cinderella. Vanilla adds fragrance to sugar, while sugar adds a sweet body for the fragrance to inhabit.
The first step is to cut off both tips and split the pod from end to end, to let out the pungent little seeds.
For a simple sugar extraction, simply chop the split pod into manageable sized pieces, and add them to your sugar bowl.
Another great material with which to extract vanilla is bourbon. Its oaky, caramel flavor dances nicely with the vanilla and can handle a little sweetness. Bourbon also contains
alcohol (little known fact, I know), which is a great medium in which to extract vanilla flavor. Chop a split pod and add the pieces to some fine bourbon, and wait a few
days, or ideally a few weeks. Alternatively, splash bourbon into a cup of vanilla sugar if vanilla isn’t enough brown flavor in your sweetness, and you can’t find any chocolate.

Top Shelf

Long live rock!
Long live rock!
By Chris Aaland
05/21/2020

It’s been nearly two months since “Top Shelf” last graced these pages. In my first 12-plus years of writing this column, I think I only missed two weeks.

Raised on radio
Raised on radio
By Chris Aaland
03/26/2020

Social distancing is driving many of us stir crazy, especially after last week’s big dump. Not only do we crave physical interaction with each other, but we’re also an active community.

The week the music died
The week the music died
By Chris Aaland
03/19/2020

For more than 12 years, I’ve written “Top Shelf” on a weekly basis as a column about the local music scene and nightlife. I also drift into sports, pop culture and political territory from time to time. And, on far too many occasions, I’ve paid homage to a family member or friend who has passed, like my son, brother, mother and festival friend. 

Bogguss' aces, Irish eyes and Salmon splash
Bogguss' aces, Irish eyes and Salmon splash
By Chris Aaland
03/12/2020

Perhaps the biggest and baddest Durango Celtic Festival to date runs tonight (Thurs., March 12) through Sunday, with events alternating between the Henry Strater Theatre and the Irish Embassy Pub. This year’s line up is one of the best in the festival’s history, with five internationally acclaimed artists. 

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

Soaking it up
Soaking it up
05/21/2020
Local color: Telegraph coloring page winners
Local color: Telegraph coloring page winners
04/30/2020

A look at some (OK, all) of the Telegraph's coloring page submissions

Sole man
Sole man
03/12/2020

At the age of 19, Durango’s Mervin “Merv” Stilson started making shoes and never looked back (except for the time he made a Western-style jacket for Neil Young).

Wonder wall
Wonder wall
By Stephen Eginoire
03/05/2020

Southeastern Utah has no shortage of natural wonders, and perhaps one of the most curious is the 80-mile-long sandstone monocline known as Comb Ridge. 

Read All in Day on the Life