The humble vanilla bean / pod
The vanilla bean in magnificent it its dark dreary half shrivelled disguise of a pod nestling its tiny seeds away from prying eyes. The pod looks like something you would throw out in disgust after finding it hidden beneath your fridge not an aromatic flavouring to add depth and flavour to your golden cakes. When the vanilla bean has served it’s purpose it can live on and make a delicious vanilla sugar that you normally find in quality baking shops or gourmet restaurants. Of course they charge a fortune for it in the shops and yet you can make this in a blink of any eye. It also gives you advantage when people ask you how you make your cakes so tasty you can say
“I always use a gourmet vanilla sugar”
This will produce a look of awe from your friends and perhaps a scattering of understanding nodding even though they may not know what it is; it sounds impressive. If you are lucky most will not dare to ask what vanilla sugar is for not wanting to look dumb. For those that do – there is no harm in sharing your secret if you wish.
Homemade Vanilla Sugar = You are a Baking Queen 🙂
All you need to do is:
1 x air tight storage jar (Kilner are good)
1 x vanilla pod / bean emptied of seeds (after being added to your cakes)
Cut the vanilla bean / pod into several pieces – not too small that you forget to fish them out when you bake with the sugar – it’s not good to chomp on one of these pods as they do not taste nice raw. Add your used pods to a storage jar / airtight container. Pour caster sugar over the top – I use golden caster sugar for my vanilla cakes as it make them taste smoother and more like a vanilla ice cream and gives your cake the slight twist in flavour to a normal victoria sponge for example. Place the vanilla sugar wannabee mixture in a dark cupboard ( the baking one is a good idea so you don’t forget where you put it!)
After a few days or as long as you want, the flavour will intensify the longer you leave it. Use it in reciepes that call for vanilla extract and sugar such as cakes, creme brulee etc. Why not have a teaspoon in your coffee – because your worth it and you can!
Look at the choc & toffee cookie recipe or toffee fudge meringue to see where I have used this wonderful sugar.
Next on my list will be making some vanilla extract as I want high quality and low price = win win!
Meringue always reminds me of what we would have for my dads birthday each year as he does not really like cake (I know the horror of it!) and his birthday is on Christmas Eve and you know all you are going to get over the next 3 weeks is Christmas cake, Stollen and mince pies so he prefers to have something different. Meringues are like little pillowy, chewy clouds of air and sugar that melt in your mouth. This is my first attempt at meringue and I can say I was very pleased with the results.
They do not take long to make at all if you use a mixer (I dread to think how long they would take to beat by hand). I even did the bowl over my head test and the meringue mixture stayed in – thankfully!
4 egg whites
4oz caster sugar
4oz vanilla natural caster sugar ( I use vanilla sugar see my post for more information)
100ml double cream
Toffee Fudge sauce (I used Sainsbury’s)
- Preheat oven to 130c / gas ½ / 250f or 100c fan oven.
- Line 3 baking trays
- Place egg whites in a stand mixer or non metallic bowl
- Whisk on high speed until the mixture is forming peaks (but not really stiff that they do not move – there will still be some movement in your bowl. Now would not be a good time to hold it over your head!)
- Add sugar 1 tbsp at a time to the egg mixture whilst still mixing on high speed.
- Once all the sugar has been added to your mixture it should be forming stiff peaks and is glossy. Now you should be able to turn your bowl upside down and no mixture should come out – put it over your head if you are brave enough!)
- Put the meringue mixture into a piping bag with a round 1cm nozzle
- Pipe blobs onto lined baking trays to the size you need . I used approx 5cm round.
- If you really want perfectly sized ones draw circles on the underside of your greaseproof paper using a plastic milk top or other round object to the size you want them (no you can’t use dinner plates).
- Place in the middle of the oven for 40 mins until they can be lifted off the baking paper easily.
- Leave the meringues in the oven to cool if you like mallowy and chewy. If you don’t like chewy take them out of the oven and leave to cool on the side.
- Pair up similar sized meringues
- Whip 100ml double cream until thick.
Pipe cream onto the side of one meringue using a star nozzle
- Drizzle toffee fudge sauce over the top (Sainsburys – I take no credit)
- Sandwich a similar sized meringue on the top. Serve and enjoy!
Tip: They will start to absorb the moisture from the cream after a few hours so make, serve and eat for best results.