It once was a flavour or, more honestly, a non-flavour that harked back to my now-distant youth. Vanilla was the ice cream you chose when it was going to have a pile of garnishes and sauces on top. Vanilla was the cake for the non-special occasions. Vanilla was even the paint colour which was, ironically, a nice safe white and probably designed for people who wanted to push the envelope after years of magnolia. But that wasnt Pure Vanilla!
Yes, vanilla was a non-event. Quality was the problem. Most of the confections that crossed my path contained faux vanilla that had never known the inside of a pod. Sweet, brown and chemical-y, these artificial flavourings were the norm unless you were middle class. We were, most of us anyway, ignorant of the true and distinctive taste of real vanilla. No excuses these days for using that ‘flavouring’.
The true vanilla is an exotic plant, an orchid, from which the bean pod is harvested. We buy them when they are thin, black and unprepossessing, but a vanilla pod is a gift that keeps on giving. Split the pod and use the sticky seeds inside to add to your desserts. Use the remaining pod to give real flavour to syrups and spirits; but hang onto it, dry it off and store it in a pot of sugar. Voila! Free vanilla sugar to sprinkle on cakes and biscuits.
The author, Shauna Sever, presents us with a collection of more than 80 recipes with vanilla at their heart. Even breakfast comes in for some vanilla enhancing with the deliciously aromatic and sweet Slow-cooked Vanilla Spice Oatmeal. I think a slow-cooker or crockpot is an indispensible domestic kitchen gadget and it’s ideal for this overnight preparation. It’s a warm and hearty start to the day that will be waiting for you and guests when you wake up on, say, a cold Sunday morning and you just want to snuggle at home with the Sunday papers.
Cream pies are an American staple. I have tried Coconut Cream Pie and Banana Cream Pie and they often grace the table chez nous; Vanilla Cream Pie is new to me but it works. A vanilla-flavoured biscuit (cookie) base is topped with a ‘cream’ laced with vanilla. This isn’t a dairy cream but a pastry cream or confectioner’s custard. The whipped cream is to mound in fluffy drifts just before serving.
Talking of coconut, a thoroughly adult, sophisticated and delicious ice lolly is the Coconut and Vanilla Bean Ice Pop. They are brilliant white with that characteristic black fleck. The coconut is in fact coconut milk which gives richness without the bits. These would make a delightful end to a spicy barbecue. Simple and made in advance.
Pure Vanilla is an attractive volume full of things that you will want to prepare right away. There are plenty of recipes that you will adapt and make your own. This is a gift-quality cookbook that will be enjoyed by any baker, whether novice or confident.
Author: Shauna Sever
Published by: Quirk
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018