Discover the Wondrous Vanilla Bean!
Glorious Day, Everyone!
I’m back and I’m so happy to see that you are, too! It shouldn’t be too long before the tea’s brewed…
Vanilla bean, vanilla bean – Have you ever seen a vanilla bean?! For years, I poured over recipes that call for the seeds scraped from this odd-looking pod. Until recently, I’d never seen one for myself! Did you know that vanilla is one of the world’s most expensive spices because it is so labour intensive to grow? The vanilla bean is actually the fruit of the vanilla orchid, grown in tropical climates. Nearly three-fourths of the world’s supply of vanilla beans comes from Madagascar. Baking can be very educational, indeed, n’est ce pas?
Some months ago, a thoughtful friend and co-worker, whose daughter and husband were moving away, kindly gifted me the contents of their pantry (I believe the husband is a chef). She thought I might be able to use some of its more ‘exotic’ contents which included vanilla bean pods. I used the opportunity to try out some of the recipes I’d been hoarding. How grateful I was! Thank you, Terry! I recently invited her to lunch along with several other friends and served this next sweet treat.
I am elated to share with you my new-found recipe for ‘Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake’. It was tucked away deep inside a kitchen drawer and, for the life of me, I can’t remember where it came from. Many versions of blueberry cake are commonly made in this part of the world, but this particular recipe calls for a not-so-common ingredient that ramps it up a few notches and makes it just heavenly, which is why I must certainly have kept it. WOW results can be achieved with the vanilla bean and the aroma…Oh, my! On its own, this delectable cake can be served with afternoon tea. Dress it up a little on the plate and you can serve it as a fancy dinner dessert. The first time I made this cake, I made four (yes, 4) batches and froze the loaves. I just knew it was going to be great. Am I ever glad that I did that!
I entertained various bunches of ‘lunching ladies’ on three occasions last week alone. This ‘Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake’ recipe inspired me to do that! For those of you who know me well, I’m recovering from breast cancer and had a new-found burst of energy (which I had been lacking for a long time), and so I invited several groups of friends and co-workers for lunch over the course of a few days and had a wonderful time catching up with everyone. It was so convenient to just pull this wonderful cake out of the freezer, thaw and serve it up warm with ice cream and a blueberry liqueur sauce – a gorgeous vision! I was absolutely delighted to be able to serve it as a dessert each time and, let me tell you, it did not disappoint. The hugest compliment came from my good friend Rita who owns and operates a beautiful bed and breakfast (I’ll tell you all about her amazing Inn in a future blog,). I invited her lovely friend and chef, Lois, along, too, and they enjoyed it so much they asked if they could serve this cake at the Inn! Can you believe that?! Their standards are high at the Inn; and, for me, it was the ultimate compliment. I’m still giddy! Lol
Get excited to make this devine cake that can be served so many beautiful ways. It not only tastes sublime; with a little imagination, it can look oh-so-stunning on the plate! You’ll quickly earn the reputation as “Blueberry Cake Diva”! Read on and I’ll tell you about all the different ways you can serve this amazing, yet so simple-to-make, cake. Let’s make it together!
Not Your Mother’s Recipe – BerryVanilla Bean Loaf
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 vanilla beans
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 extra large eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Vanilla sanding sugar, optional
- 1 1/2 cups berries
In a large bowl, combine butter, cream cheese and sugar with an electric mixture until fluffy. Blend in the eggs one at a time until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Blend in the seeds scraped from the vanilla bean pods and lightly mix. In a separate medium-sized bowl, add in all of the remaining ingredients except the buttermilk. Using a fork, combine these dry ingredients together then pour into the butter and cream cheese mixture.
Combine the two mixtures using a wooden mixing spoon – Do not use an electric mixture for this step. Add in the buttermilk and mix until the dough becomes thick but be careful not to overmix! Gently fold in berries and pour into a greased 9 x 5 loaf pan. Sprinkle sanding sugar over the top of the batter (this step is optional). Bake for approximately 1 hour at 350 degrees Farenheit. Test for doneness by inserting a knife or a toothpick into the middle of the loaf; if it comes out clean, the cake is done. Let cool for about 20 minutes, invert pan and remove the loaf. Note: Your loaf pan will likely be full to the brim, so you may first have to loosen the loaf around the sides of the pan using a butter knife first before removing it from the pan.
Substitutions: Fresh strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, or a glorious combination thereof! I would also use fresh cherries when in season; simply pit them and slice in half.
I ran short on blueberries when making several loaves at once and substituted a combination of fresh blueberries and strawberries and, and for good measure, even threw in a few cranberries! The result was colourful and wonderful! I guess you could call this version “Bumbleberry Vanilla Bean Loaf”!
Sanding Sugar – Sprinkle sanding sugar over top of your batter once it’s in the pan and just before your loaf goes into the oven. Sanding sugar is coarser than granulated sugar and will add a noticeable sparkle to the crust of the loaf. *Make it even more fabulous by using vanilla sanding sugar.
Have I peaked your curiosity? Keep reading and I’ll tell you how you can make your own vanilla sanding sugar for use in baking, and also as a gift to sweeten beverages and fruits.
Ice cream and Blueberries in Peach Schnapps – A gynormous scoop of very vanilla ice cream over top of a generous slice of Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake is divine. Note: Try using a mashed potato scoop for the ice cream for an extravagant look to this dessert. I’ve even used a melon scoop and piled several cutesy tiny scoops of ice cream over top. Drizzle berries and liquer over top and down the sides of the ice cream onto cake. Heavenly, just heavenly, m’dears…
- 1 1/2 cups fresh, plump blueberries (or combination of fresh blackberries, blueberries and cherries, when in season)
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup of peach schnapps (if using cherries, trying using cherry brandy instead)
- 1/4 tsp pure vanilla, optional
In a small saucepan over low heat (or, better yet, in the top of a double boiler), heat the berries in liquer just until warm enough for serving. BE CAREFUL NOT TO BOIL.
Where can I buy vanilla beans locally? I discovered ‘Rodelle’ Vanilla Beans that came all the way from Madagascar at my local COSTCO. Each package contains 2 glass cylinders that hold 5 beans each for a total of 10 beans and costs about $17.
How do I scrape the seeds from a vanilla bean? I followed the instructions as per the back of the Kirkland package on the left.Lay the bean flat on a cutting board. With a small,
sharp knife cut the bean lengthwise splitting it open down the middle. Open the bean and use the backside of the knife to scrape the seeds out of the pod. I found, however, that using the back of a small butter knife for this step to be more efficient in extracting the seeds from the pod.
BLUE NOTES: Our beautiful province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada is known for its delicious and abundant wild blueberries. They are exported to other parts when they are in season. Blueberry picking is a popular way for many of us ‘Newfoundlanders and Labradorians’ to spend a weekend afternoon in the fall on the barrens, picking these amazingly tasty berries to use in everything from jams and chutneys to muffins and breads, all matter of desserts and homemade wine. It can be back-breaking work to pick a mere gallon of these gorgeous gems but it’s well worth the fresh air, exercise, amazing scenery and certainly the pure satisfaction of picking something absolutely fresh from the land with which to cook up something wonderful for family and friends.
This time of year, though, somewhat ‘fresh’ cultivated blueberries are available at our local COSTCO and supermarkets where they are imported from warmer climates. You’ll find these are much larger and plumper than those that grow naturally here in the wild. While they may very well be lovelier looking, I find they’re not quite as tasty as those fresh off the barrens. Really, if you travelled in a truck for a week, how fresh would you be? They are still very good, though. Basically, the fresher the berry, the tastier your cake will be. The addition of the magical vanilla bean more than makes up for ‘cheating’ in this recipe by using the store-bought, cultivated berries.
Ideally fresh blueberries are always better, no matter if they are fresh off the barrens or from the store. If you have to use frozen berries, semi-frozen are easier to use and might not break open as easily. Fresh blueberries are fragile so take extra care to gently fold them into your batter. If you beat them too much, they are apt to burst open and release their juices into your batter and cause it to turn a greenish-blue colour. It won’t affect the taste, but the loaf won’t look as pretty. Personally, I think the green colour resembles mold – sort of – and since we eat with our eyes, too, I avoid this by using only fresh berries whenever possible. This cake is sooo tasty, why go to the extra trouble of scraping vanilla seeds out of their pods and then ruining the look of your cake by using frozen berries that have burst open and turned your batter green?!
I know that you’ll simply love this cake. Scraping the vanilla seeds may seem like a lot of work at first, but once you get the hang of it, it will only take but an instant and soon you’ll start substituting vanilla seeds for artificial vanilla in many of your recipes. I hope you will treasure this recipe and return to it again and again for many years to come.
February 14th is just around the corner. Vanilla Sugar makes a beautiful ‘Love Gift’ but you had better begin preparing it now. Place an entire vanilla pod in your sugar jar and let it keep for a week or more. Ooh-la- la! What an enticing aroma! Simply add it to your hot chocolate, coffee or tea for a posh cuppa. For a glamorous gift for a special friend, auntie or grandma, spoon your vanilla sugar into a gorgeous glass jar and wrap in a swath of organza or cello for quite the memorable gift! Tie on a petite shiny sugar spoon for extra glam. Be sure and tag the jar, identifying its contents (see below). While you’re at it, why not include a ready-made Blueberry Vanilla Bean Cake and a copy of the recipe for inspiration. The very lucky recipient will absolutely fall in love with you all over again!!!
Vanilla Sugar Recipe
- 2-4 cups of granulated sugar (for beverages and fruits) or sanding sugar (to use in baking)
- 1-2 vanilla bean pods, split in half lengthwise and crosswise
Place about 1/3 of the sugar into a jar or canister with a tight-fitting lid. Add a layer of vanilla bean pod pieces. Repeat the process, layering the sugar and vanilla bean, ending with sugar on top. Pack down lightly before adding each layer. Shake the jar every other day for a week or more to allow the flavours to blend. NOTE: The sugar may pick up some colouring from the bean, which is normal.
Gift Tag (suggested wording): Substitute vanilla sugar anytime a recipe calls for granulated sugar for a more flavourful outcome. Use in cookies and cakes; coffee, teas or hot chocolate; and over cereal or fresh fruit. Enjoy my sweet!
Did you know that baking powder can spoil? Am I the only person who did not know that?! Be sure to use ‘active’ baking powder in your recipes to avoid them falling flat and foiling your best efforts. Check the ‘best before date’ on the bottom of the can; and when in doubt, throw it out. It’s recommended that baking powder be replaced on your pantry shelf after one year.
Stay tuned my beauties for more recipes to use up those vanilla bean pods in your cupboard…