Confession: I’ve been one of those people who thinks vanilla is boring. Vanilla ice cream? Maybe with pie. Vanilla cake? Well, maybe, depending on the frosting. However, Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques by Shauna Sever has proven me very, very wrong.
Vanilla is anything BUT boring. Sever lays down some really fascinating details about the vanilla bean even before she digs into the recipes. Here are a few I found to be interesting:
- Vanilla beans are the second most expensive spice, following the No. 1 saffron.
- The beans have to be harvested by hand (hence the hefty price tag)
- Vanilla beans are the seed pods of a specific type of orchid that prefers hot, humid climates, approximately 700-1,400 miles from the equator.
- Thomas Jefferson had a sweet tooth and was an avid ice cream maker–who would have known? When he was the ambassador to France in 1789, he fell in love with vanilla and brought some beans home with him. His vanilla ice cream recipe is kept at the Library of Congress.
And vanilla is the top-selling ice cream flavor in the U.S. So, okay, okay, I’m obviously missing something here and need to turn my thoughts around!
Luckily, Sever’s book makes it easy to get into the groove. With recipes ranging from breakfast items to cookies, cakes to candies and custards, there’s something for everyone, and almost all skill levels. I also like that there is a balance of typical recipes (vanilla pound cake) and the not-so-typical (twinkie bundt cake and vanilla nougat candies). The book’s photography is stunning, and even the inside cover space is put to work, providing readers with a vanilla lover’s cheat sheet (so if you don’t have a whole vanilla bean, you can figure out the equivalent of extract you use) and a metric conversion chart.
I decided to take one of the recipes for a test drive and baked the Big, Soft Frosted Vanilla Sugar Cookies on page 77. I used Sever’s suggestion and added instant espresso to the cookie batter and frosting, making them Big, Soft Frosted Vanilla Latte Sugar Cookies. The recipe was easy enough to follow, though the first instruction of beating the butter and vanilla together until creamy does not yield creamy results (really, you need to beat the butter and sugar together first, THEN the vanilla, but I made it work).
I used brown sugar, since I’m running low on granulated, but otherwise stuck to Sever’s recipe. I cut the frosting recipe in half, however, because I didn’t want heaps of frosting taking away from the cookie (you can see my cookies in the top photo of the collage above).
The cookies are very vanilla-y, not so latte-ish, and I like how the edges are crisp but the centers are soft. However, I can taste the oil in the recipe (it calls for 1 cup butter and a 1/2 cup oil), which distracts me. If I were to make these again, I’d sub in butter for oil.
So, if you’re a vanilla fan, pick up Pure Vanilla for your bookshelf, or give it as a gift for any of your baking friends … they’ll definitely enjoy it!
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher. However, my opinions are my own.