Tag : spices
Tag : spices
My relationship with cooking pork is much like the oft-debated “When was our first date? Was it the night on Lover’s Overlook when we fondled each other with our clothes on? Or was it the first time you took me out for dinner at Johnny Rocket’s and paid for my meal?”
Excluding bacon, the first time I cooked pork was soon after I moved home from Japan. I was just starting my individual foray into the world of cooking techniques and, intrigued by the idea of braising, I decided to try braising a pork belly. I expected something similar to Chinese spare ribs or those delectable slices of chashu/charsiu you get in ramen.
I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn’t even find pork belly. I braised some part of a pig in coconut milk and spices, and I was so excited to try this homemade delicacy. I had braised! I had made pork! It would taste sooooo delicious!
It tasted like Death.
Let me clarify: that’s Death with a capital D. It didn’t necessarily taste bad, though at the time I figured I might never braise a pork whatever-it-was again (it’s been long enough, I should give it another chance.) It just tasted…dead. Not like blood, not like mold (cough cough, lamb, cough cough), not like rot. But like flesh, or like dirt. Eating those chunks of whatever part of the pig I bought, I had a striking sense that this thing had lived, had skin, muscle, and bones, and then had died.
For my vegan and vegetarian readers, I apologize for the graphic imagery. For the rest of you, I rarely have qualms about what I’m eating, because as much as I can, I try not to eat things that would give me qualms (or salmonella, but that’s an entirely different monster.)
So it wasn’t that I felt psychologically or spiritually that this thing was dead. It just tasted dead. Like Death.
If I had to find a better analogy, I would say it tasted a little like dirt.
At the time, I figured that pork usually tasted like dirt, forgetting that I had actually eaten plenty of un-dirt-y pork in my life already, and I decided to focus on chicken instead.
That brings me to the second date, the one where he actually took me out in public, to a restaurant, as a couple, and paid for my dinner: Easter, 2016.
Knowing that pork and lamb are the common Easter dishes, I decided I would go out on a newly-blossomed limb and try one or the other. I gathered together a packet of spring pork and lamb recipes, attempted a shepherd’s pie well before the holiday to prepare, decided with certainty that I would never cook lamb again (that tasted like an entirely different kind of Death), and then picked out a pork recipe for the big celebration: Brunello Cucinelli’s pork tenderloin with garlic and rosemary.
I had to make a few tweaks to the process because Signor Cucinelli is far more skilled than I was, but when we finally cut into the garlicky, floral pork roulade, it tasted…like Life?
That’s tacky. Sorry. It tasted like spring. No capital letters.
Everyone who tried it (my grandma and my parents) agreed that it needed to come around again, so throughout the last 2 years, I found times to try the recipe again, or to try other (simpler) pork recipes (one of which will feature on the blog later this year), or, feeling super creative, to adapt that recipe for the season.
And so that’s what we have: in December, feeling the cold of winter deep down in places where cold should not be, I went whole-hog (not literally) and changed up the recipe to suit the season: rosemary became fennel and star anise; the garlic became garlic, apples, walnuts, spices, and honey; the white wine for roasting became apple brandy; and the white wine pan sauce became brandied apples with butter, shallots, and spices.
Basically, it’s baklava but with pork instead of phyllo dough, and savory-sweet instead of only sweet.
And if you’re wondering why the blog is titled “Winter Stuffed Pork,” I’ll give you a hint: cranberries are for autumn, spinach is for summer, and spring remains to be determined.
pork loin roulade with apples and walnuts
Learn from my mistakes: pork loin and pork tenderloin are not at all the same thing. They both go by many names, but what you’re looking for in this recipe is pork loin, pork roast, or center loin. It’s a big chunk of meat, shaped like a block, with a nice layer of white fat on top. If it looks kind of like a certain genital thing, it’s a pork tenderloin and will turn out completely differently in this recipe (so don’t use that one.)
Also, get yourself a good digital meat thermometer. When roasting meat, it’s easy to overcook the meat, and with pork more than anything else, it’s easy to dry out the meat too much. Anything you cook will continue cooking after you remove it from its heat source, so you can consider removing the pork from the oven when it registers between 140 – 145* degrees Fahrenheit. Adding brandy and cider to the roasting pan/Dutch oven will help, and if you think your pork dried out just a bit too much, then go heavy on the brandied apples on top.
*For anyone who doesn’t have a lot of experience cooking meat, make sure you cook pork all the way through (it’s not the same as beef, which has a wider range of safe temperatures.)
for the pork roulade
8 garlic cloves
1/2 c walnuts (2 oz)
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp fennel seeds, divided
1 tsp anise seeds or ground anise
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1/2 c honey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt plus more
1/2 of one large granny smith apple, or any other red apple (save the other half for the brandied apple topping)
1 2-pound boneless pork loin or tenderloin
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c apple brandy
for the brandied apples
1 shallot, cut in half and sliced
1/2 of one large granny smith apple, or any other red apple
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c apple brandy
1/2 c apple cider
1/2 c honey
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp orange zest (zest from 1/4 of a large orange)
make the pork roulade
Preheat oven to 400°.
In a small food processor, pulse together the garlic cloves, walnuts, 1 Tbsp of the fennel seeds, a hefty pinch of salt, the spices, a splash of olive oil, and the honey, until coarse and chunky but not too pasty. Set aside until the pork is ready.
Place pork, fat side down, on a cutting board with the short end toward you. Holding a sharp knife parallel to board and about 1/2 inch up side of loin, make an incision along entire length of one side. Continue cutting, lifting meat with your free hand as you go, until loin is open and flat. Alternately, stand the pork up on one of the long sides so you’re cutting vertically, if that’s easier. This process is called butterflying.
Cover the butterflied pork with a sheet of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and using a meat mallet, pound out the meat until it becomes a little thinner and more even.
Spread garlic mixture over inside of loin and season with salt and pepper. Chop the half of the apple into small chunks, about 1 centimeter or 1/2″ wide. Place the apple bits evenly around the pork on top of the garlic mixture.
Roll pork tightly; using kitchen twine, tie at 1 inch intervals. Rub the outside of the roulade with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and the remaining 1 tsp of fennel seeds.
Place the pork, fat side up, in a large cast iron pot, skillet, or roasting pan. Add the apple brandy; roast pork until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of loin registers 140 – 145*, about 1 hour (the pork will continue to cook a bit after you take it out of the oven.) *Start checking after about 40-45 minutes.
When the pork is done, remove it from the pot and set aside to rest. Pour the liquid and fat from the pot into a large measuring cup and scrape out any brown bits. If needed, bring the liquid and fat to a simmer before you pour it off so that you can deglaze the pot and scrape out any stubborn browned bits. Keep the mixture for the topping.
make the brandied apples
Place the emptied pot or a clean sauce pan on medium heat and add a splash of olive oil.
Chop the other half of the apple into small chunks just like the first half.
When the oil is heated, add the shallot slices and apple chunks and saute for 3-5 minutes until both start to brown a bit.
Add the minced garlic and saute for about a minute until you can smell the garlic.
Add the apple brandy and bring to a simmer, deglazing the pot again and reducing the liquid by half. Pour the roasting liquid and fat back into the pot and add the apple cider, then bring everything to a simmer. Add the honey, bring to a simmer/boil, and let it cook until it thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.
Add the butter and orange zest, and whisk until the butter melts. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Slice the roulade evenly (slices about 1″-2″ thick), and serve with the apple brandy sauce.
When I was in my last year in college, I bought a full bottle of Jim Bean bourbon for myself, even though I had only had bourbon, whiskey, and scotch once each. I wanted to see if I could make myself develop a taste for it.
2016 holiday cookies: cranberry orange cookies
2015 holiday cookies: vegan snickerdoodles and vegan peanut butter cookies
2014 holiday cookies: cardamom molasses cookies
Fortunately, I could, or else I would have wasted a whole bottle of bourbon (I found some really good recipes for winter bourbon cocktails, all of which have since gotten lost in the sands of the internet.)
This year, I bought as much anise and fennel as I could get my hands on, to see if I could learn to appreciate those flavors. It took more than a year for me to finally be able to tolerate either flavor, but keep the licorice to yourself, please, and if you wouldn’t mind, keep it out of my sight, as well.
In light of my feelings towards anise and fennel, one might wonder why I have an anise star tatted on my back. The answer would be that cardamom pods have a less distinctive look and cardamom is what I really wanted, but I also wanted people to be able to recognize what the tattoo was.
Last December, I started becoming really interested in German and Scandinavian food (I vowed to find bakeries in my area that make kugelhof and stollen and never even made the attempt), and I tried pepper nuts for the first time. I bought a box from Trader Joe’s, snuck them into my bedroom so my parents wouldn’t steal them, poured myself a glass of CabSauv, and took a bite…and I wasn’t into it. Those ones were heavily anise-d and fennel-ed and I was just about completely turned off from the first bite. Cut to eleven months later and I find them at Harris Teeter (my standards are low and I’m not ashamed): I scurry on home, hide away in plain sight in the dining room because at this point who cares if my parents want some, pour myself a glass of Chardonnay that tastes like Gorgonzola (does all Chardonnay taste like Gorgonzola or is it just me?), and take a bite.
Molasses cookies. That’s it.
Of course, I should be using a real German bakery as my standard, but by now I have an idea of what these are meant to be: a little crispy on the outside, coated in powdered sugar, soft on the inside, and just lightly spiced. They’re like snack cookies.
At first I wanted to see if I could do them gluten-free for my uncle and for some coworkers, but that was an utter failure (I may never nail down this gluten-free thing), so after countless frustrating attempts, I decided just to go with the gluten-y recipes, and I found myself – *gasp* – craving fennel and anise.
Never mind that all I could find at the grocery store were anise seeds. I infused those into the butter for the pepper nuts, and for the first time in a year and a half, I finally began to appreciate the spicy star permanently inked onto my shoulderblade (nestled among Italian basil leaves, Persian limes, and a scattering of whole cloves because all of those things make complete sense together.)
On the one hand, there is pepper in these cookies, at least in most recipes. By default, though, there are no nuts. I ended up not putting any nuts in mine at all. The name, however, refers to the way they look: like nuts. Some recipes use almond flour, and some actually put pieces of nuts in the dough, while others use citrus peel. I keep mine simple with no add-ins.
Obviously, they’re vastly similar to my cardamom molasses cookies, but those cookies are heavy on the ginger, cardamom, and sugar, while these are soft, subtle, and, the way I make them, heavy on the anise.
Oh, and they’re coated with powdered sugar. They’re like delightful little bon-bons.
german pfeffernüsse with anise
makes 2 dozen small cookies
adapted from The Perfect Cookie, by America’s Test Kitchen
4 Tbsp (2 oz) unsalted butter
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp anise seeds or ground anise
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/3 c (4 oz) molasses
1/4 c (1.75 oz) dark brown sugar
2 c (8.5 oz) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 c powdered sugar
Melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium-low heat. Don’t let it brown or bubble too much.
Once the butter is melted, add the cardamom, anise, fennel, cinnamon, allspice, and black pepper, and whisk until smooth. cook for another couple of seconds, until fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
Transfer the butter-spice mix to a large bowl and whisk in the molasses and brown sugar. Add the egg and whisk until smooth.
Using a wooden spoon or electric mixer with paddle attachments (like the whip/beater but with fewer loops), mix the dry ingredients into the wet until it forms a homogenous dough with no lumps of flour remaining. It may be a little bit sticky, but after you chill the dough, it’ll be easy to handle.
Form a rectangle with the dough and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour.
While the dough is chilling, preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C and line 1-2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cut the dough rectangle in half and keep one half chilled while working with the other.
Cut the other half into 12 equal pieces, roll the pieces into spheres, and place on the baking sheets about 1-2 inches apart. Put the first sheet in the oven while preparing the other half of the cookies.
Repeat the previous step with the other half of the dough, baking each batch for 10 – 12 minutes until the tops are completely dry and the cookies are slightly lighter in color, but still a little soft.
Let the cookies cool on the pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (about 15 minutes or more) before tossing in the powdered sugar.
Once fully cooled, add the powdered sugar to a bowl and toss the cookies a few at a time to coat completely.
Auf Wiedersehen und Frohe Weihnachten!
St. Nicholas 😉
previous autumn monthly muffins
I will shamelessly admit that I looooove pumpkin spice. I love spices, I love the holidays, and I love squash, so it’s like a triple whammy. I know that pumpkin spice things are really more spice than pumpkin and that most people don’t actually want a candle that smells like squash or a latte that tastes like it, but I couldn’t care less, because I love all of the spices (especially cardamom.)
My new favorite is cloves. Cloves are in…and cardamom is still in, always.
I was chatting with a customer once about the PSL craze and he mentioned (whether he was right or not, I don’t really care) that when PSL first became a thing, people were so obsessed that they resorted to petty theft and misdemeanors to get their pumpkin-flavored things. I kind of doubt it, but I also kind of don’t doubt it.
Don’t get me wrong, anything super hyped up is too hyped up, and I feel bad for the other autumn and winter flavors: maple, pecan, praline, peppermint, chocolate, gingerbread, etc. I love them all (though I am most looking forward to gingerbread lattes next month.)
I did a pumpkin muffin during the early days of the Monthly Muffin, and now I’ve added on a new one. This one is more sweet than spicy, and combines two different holiday favorites in one muffin: pumpkin spice with cranberries and white chocolate.
For those of you who love everything pumpkin, or even for those of you who are soooooo over pumpkin spice everything, but like autumn, sweets, and hearty things, these muffins are perfect.
Although, if you really don’t like pumpkin at all, then I can’t guarantee that you’ll enjoy them (but I also can’t promise that you won’t enjoy them.)
pumpkin cranberry white chocolate muffins
based on my pumpkin streusel muffins recipe
makes 1 dozen muffins
4.25 oz (120 g, 1 c) whole wheat flour
4.25 oz (120, 1 c) all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cardamom
1.75 oz (50 g, 1/4 c) canola oil
3.5 oz (100 g, ~1/2 c) milk or buttermilk
12 oz (340 g, 1.5 c) pumpkin puree
9 oz (260 g, 1 1/4 c) granulated sugar
4 oz (110 g, 1 c) cranberries, fresh or frozen, whole or coarsely chopped
4 oz (110 g, 2/3 c) white chocolate, coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C, and line muffin pan with paper liners.
In a small bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, and spices.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together oil, milk or buttermilk, pumpkin puree, and sugar until consistent.
Quickly mix in dried mixture and fold in the chopped berries and chocolate.
Scoop the batter into the muffin pan, filling each cup about 2/3-3/4 of the way full, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes until springy when pressed lightly in the middle.
Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling completely.
Squash ya later, applegator!
previous monthly muffins:
6/17, balsamic roasted strawberry muffins with balsamic glaze || 4/17, cinnamon raisin english muffins || 2/17, glazed lemon poppyseed muffins || 1/17, earl grey walnut muffins || 12/16, chocolate peppermint muffins
Two years ago, I went to a pie workshop at a bakery in my city known for pies and tarts. Of course, it being the beginning of fall, we had to make apple pie, for which the pastry chef demonstrated this super nifty tool that I went out and bought immediately: a hand-crank apple corer, peeler, and slicer. You spike the apple onto the end of a screw, position the peeling blade, and crank. The apple spins, strips, spirals, and its guts pull right out. It’s wonderful.
When I first bought it, I hated it. The one I bought didn’t seem to work as well as the machine the pastry chef showed us. The peeling blade would either not cut through the skin or it would get stuck in the apple, the core never lined up with the corer blade, and for the life of me I could not figure out how to get an asymmetrical apple to peel and core consistently.
So I put the machine away for about two years, and when I started working on this muffin recipe, I thought I would give it a second chance.
It worked like a charm. Perhaps the little hand crank doohickey grew and matured and learned to be a better version of itself…or maybe I realized it’s easier to use if you flip the apple around and peel tail-to-top instead.
Now I don’t have to spend an arm and a leg on an electric apple machine. Phew.
This recipe was inspired by a pastry we sell and sample at work during the week: apple cider donuts. The donuts are made with butter, buttermilk, and eggs (and they taste like heaven and make the whole store and street smell like apples and cinnamon), but following my obsession with consistency and matching up flavors, I wanted to go full-apple. Eggs became unsweetened apple sauce (the best vegan egg substitute I have ever used), and buttermilk became first-press apple cider. While I was already 2/3 of the way to a vegan recipe, I decided to take that last step: butter became canola oil.
Yes, butter and buttermilk are luscious and make things taste rich, but apple cider has enough acid for that back-of-the-tongue tang and there’s plenty of sweet and spice to make up for the decrease in fat.
The muffins are spiced, filled with chunks of Red Delicious apples, and then rolled in a cinnamon-sugar topping.
vegan apple cider muffins with cinnamon sugar
adapted from Smitten Kitchen
makes 1 dozen
5 oz (140 g) all-purpose flour
5 oz (140 g) whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
3 oz (85 g) canola oil
3 oz (85 g) unsweetened apple sauce
7 oz (200 g) apple cider
3 oz (85 g) granulated sugar
2 oz (56 g) dark brown sugar
1 large red apple, cored, peeled, and coarsely chopped (5~7 oz of apple bits)
cinnamon sugar coating
1 oz (28 g) granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp canola oil
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C and line a muffin pan with paper liners.
In a small bowl, whisk together flours, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together apple sauce, canola oil, apple cider, and sugars.
Quickly mix the dry ingredients into the wet mixture and fold in the apple chunks.
Scoop the batter into the muffin cups so each cup is 2/3~3/4 of the way full.
Bake the muffins for 25 – 30 minutes, until springy to the touch. When lightly pressed down in the center with a finger, the muffins should spring back up like foam.
Remove the muffins from the oven and let them cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to continue cooling before coating.
In a shallow bowl or plate, whisk together sugar and cinnamon for coating the muffins.
Brush each muffin with canola oil and roll the top of the muffin around in the sugar mixture to coat.
Muffins will keep up to 48 hours wrapped in plastic at room temperature. Don’t refrigerate the muffins, or else the coating will melt/dissolve. If they firm up, you can soften them in the microwave for 10-15 seconds.
Help, I’ve fallen in love with apples and I can’t get up!
Well, here’s another first: the first layer cake recipe of the blog (also the first cake recipe period if you don’t count the poundcake from a few years ago)!
I used to not really like cake or cupcakes (can you believe it?) I’m still not a fan of chocolate cake or strawberry cupcakes (but I am in the process of preparing some Independence Day cupcakes, and also learning to make jam, so that’s about to change.) There was a time when the only cakes I would deign to eat were angel food, lemon, and vanilla. I was so-so about frosting most of the time, but hand me a container of grocery-store chocolate frosting and a glass of soy milk, and I’ll be an elated camper.
Just keep the strawberry frosting to yourself.
I can’t remember a time when I was younger when I was enticed by cupcakes, either. They aren’t easy to eat, to be honest. Even when I moved to Los Angeles and was introduced to the world of Sprinkles, I was still a bit underwhelmed.
But everything changed when the fire nation attacked…I mean, when I had my first bakery experience doing an internship at a now-closed bakery in Durham. Not to imply anything about Sprinkles. It’s not their fault I only changed my tastes five years ago. Though, to be fair, I was still in Los Angeles four years ago, and Sprinkles was still there, too, so essentially, I had a second cupcake-ing before I graduated.
This former bakery started out as a cupcake food truck and cake catering business, and opened a store front bakery/cafe downtown, which closed its doors a few years later. I went into that internship knowing I wasn’t the biggest fan of cake, but I wanted to be there anyway.
It only took one day for them to change my mind. Not only were the cupcakes that good, but the vegan and gluten-free versions were simple. They tasted just like their dairy-full, gluten-ous counterparts, and didn’t require any strange ingredients! I was in love. They let me take home a few pastries each day, and I did just that: I filled my fridge and my guts up with cupcakes, cake, brownies, cookies, tarts, turnovers, and anything else I could get my grubby hands on.
I have since made cupcakes a few times myself, and I’ve experimented with alternative diet versions (but don’t hold your breath for any of those this year.) Last summer, I even tried to make red-white-and-blue cupcakes for Independence Day, but those didn’t turn out so well (also I didn’t start early enough…and I twisted my neck on July 3rd, so really everything didn’t happen.) I wanted them to be naturally colored, instead of dyed, and it’s more difficult than I realized to come up with something that’s actually blue, easy to find, and edible. I will not give up, though. I learned how to make strawberry puree a few weeks ago, I’m practicing jam as soon as my book arrives in the mail, and this July, I will have my cake and eat it with the side of Freedom that it deserves.
But before we get too caught up in American-ess, here’s a British-y cake that looks as interesting as it tastes good: earl grey cake with ginger-turmeric frosting (American buttercream-style.) The frosting recipe makes more frosting than you need for a modest coating, so frost liberally or keep the extra in the fridge in a sealed container (and use it for the crumb coat the next time you make the cake!)
This cake recipe uses less butter than usual and makes up for the wet ingredients with milk, producing a slightly thinner batter, and a lighter, airier final product.
I described below, as detailed as possible, how to frost a layer cake, but personally, I learned from watching YouTube videos, so here are some videos to help you visualize what to do:
earl grey cake with ginger-turmeric frosting
makes two 6″ layers, with more than enough frosting for the whole cake
120 g (1 c) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
2 bags of black tea, cut open (4 grams of tea leaves)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
150 g (3/4 c) granulated sugar
4 Tbsp (2 oz, 1/4 c) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs (2 ounces each), at room temperature
4 oz (1/2 c) milk, at room temperature
8 Tbsp (4 oz, 1/2 c) unsalted butter, softened
340 g (2 1/2 c) powdered sugar
dash of salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger or galangal
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1 tsp fresh grated turmeric or galangal
milk, as needed, for texture (2-4 Tbsp)
making the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease and line two 6″ cake pans with parchment paper (the paper is so you can easily pull the cake out, but it doesn’t need to cover the entire surface.)
In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, tea leaves, and cinnamon.
In a large bowl or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar, beating for about 3-5 minutes or until light, pale, and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula.
Beat the eggs into the butter/sugar mixture, one at a time, mixing for 3-5 minutes after each one, until the batter fluffs up. Scrap down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally.
Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk to the batter (1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the milk, 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the milk, and finally the last third of the flour), mixing constantly and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally with the rubber spatula.
The batter will be a little thinner than expected, but the final product will be light and airy.
Fill the cake pans evenly with the batter and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean, the sides are shrinking away from the pan, and the cake is plump like a foam ball when pressed lightly with a finger.
Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in their pans for about 5 minutes, until you can handle the pans. Then, remove the cakes from their pans and let cool on a wire rack (with no parchment underneath them, so that the bottoms don’t get damp) until room temperature (or cooler) and ready to frost.
making the frosting
Cream the butter and a small amount (1/4 c, 30 g) of the powdered sugar until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Gradually add in the powdered sugar, about 1/4-1/2 c (30 – 60 g) at a time, beating until it returns to smooth frosting consistency after each addition and scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl each time.
After all of the sugar has been mixed in, beat in the rest of the ingredients until the mixture becomes smooth and frosting-like again. Taste and add either more powdered sugar, spice, or milk for texture. The frosting should have gained a significant amount of volume and be a little bit firm.
You want the frosting to be spreadable but if there isn’t enough sugar, the frosting breaks (the butter breaks or melts.) If you plan to add more wet ingredients (ie., fresh ginger and turmeric like I did), you need more sugar to compensate. Err on the side of too much powdered sugar. Besides, if you don’t have enough powdered sugar, your frosting will just taste like compound butter (not that compound butter is a bad thing but we’re making cake today, not steak.)
frosting the cake
**Usually, you would use a lazy susan or some type of cake stand for frosting, but you can also put the bottom layer of the cake on a square of parchment paper and spin that around as needed (I do. I find I don’t need a wheel to do the frosting.) Just make sure you cover the entire surface of your cake with frosting.**
Slice off the domed top of one cake layer. This will become the bottom layer. You can also slice off the top of the other layer, if you want.
Coat the top of this bottom layer with a thin layer of frosting, the crumb coat that helps you add more frosting without the cake crumbling into it. Let the crumb coat dry for a few minutes. Optionally, you can chill the cake after adding the crumb coat, so the frosting solidifies.
Add a thicker layer of frosting on top of the crumb coat, and place the upper layer of the cake on top. You now have two layers of cake with a thick center of the ginger-turmeric frosting.
Using an offset spatula, liberally frost the sides and top of the cake, and fill in the crevice where the cake layers meet. Smooth down the frosting periodically with the side of the offset spatula, the back of a knife, or the straight side of a bowl/bench scraper (angle the flat of the spatula, knife, or scraper towards the cake and run it around the perimeter, so that the frosting is distributed evenly, rather than removed entirely.) You can either chill the cake every once in a while or let the frosting dry out to make adding the rest of the frosting easier.
Continue adding layers and smoothing them down until all of the frosting is used up. Alternately, save some frosting to decorate the cake with a piping bag and tip.
Cut with a long slicing knife and enjoy!
Cake keeps for up to a week wrapped in plastic in the fridge. Theoretically, you only need to cover the cut surfaces of the cake and not the frosting, but better safe than sorry!
I’ll let y’all eat cake,
Nic le P’
I used to be picky about meat. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t particularly like it. I don’t know if I just got bored with what was on offer, or if I hadn’t developed a taste for it yet, but it was a rare meat that made me smile.
They say “distance makes the heart grow fonder,” and that’s exactly what happened.
One week in middle school, my best friend said he didn’t believe I had the will to be a vegetarian, and that it was stupid to try. I showed him…for exactly one week. Then I caved. One meat I did like was Chinese beef, or beef in “Chinese” food. The chow fun did me in, y’all.
I was ashamed but also prideful, “I realized there was no point in being vegetarian. You were still wrong, even though I did give up. So…hah!”
Then in high school, I decided to try again, and really try. For me, it was like a challenge: could I challenge myself to expand my non-meat experiences? By eliminating “cheeseburger” from my options at restaurants, I figured it would make choosing an entree easier, something I still struggle with. I also figured it would be the healthy choice (Present Me is rolling his eyes at Teenaged Me), and that it made sense because I still wasn’t super thrilled about meat as a concept.
The first year was rocky. My family would (perhaps unintentionally, or perhaps cunningly) leave halves of Panera sandwiches that they had bought in the fridge. They would be halves of the very panini that I enjoyed the most…and I, though I probably could, would not restrain myself from sneaking bites of the chicken bacon whatever that belonged to my sister.
I was a bad vegetarian. Once, I wanted to try a friend’s nachos, which had ground beef on them. I wiped the beef off, and shrugged, “meh.” They all looked at me and said, “you’re a really bad vegetarian.”
The summer before that, I had spent a month in Ireland, gorged on bacon and Irish sausage (Irish sausage is a godsend, unless it dark and called “pudding.” That is a not-godsend.)
I was ashamed. So I doubled down and said, “no more of this nonsense!” I went to homeroom a changed dude.
For about two years after that I was a good vegetarian. I was super discerning. I was also a little nag-y, maybe (my college friends can confirm or refute.)
I once went out for Korean barbecue with friends, just because I didn’t want to be the only one not going, and ate all the pickles and condiments. And then I ate dinner when I got home. That was sort of a low, but I didn’t realize it at the time.
Early on in my second year at university, when I was starting to think about studying abroad in Japan, and also just living in Japan in general, a friend convinced me to exchange my vegetarianism for pescetarianism (is there a standard spelling for that yet?!) It didn’t take a lot of convincing. Before she could even get the “sc” out of her mouth, I was all in. “Please, teach me the ways of the fish!” We went out for a sushi dinner that night.
I loved all of it. That’s huge: as much as I disliked meat, I used to like seafood even less. But that night, I was in love. The lust has since plateaued into a balanced and prominent enjoyment of seafood.
I assumed I should get into seafood because Japan, and obviously, and duh. I later discovered I was misguided: Japan loves meat. The second step towards my carnal rebirth was ramen, an unavoidable and unforgettable thing…made with pork bone broth. I caved a little more: “I’ll only eat meat if it’s in ramen. Just that one exception.”
People were, understandably, flummoxed. I survived that way for a good three years, enjoying Los Angeles’s sushi and seafood scene, getting into Korean food (I can have KBBQ now!), and paradoxically eating ramen.
Fate, however, had different plans. Not only did Japan love meat, Japanese public schools loooooooove serving meat for school lunch, and the whole “how do I maintain my pescetarianism (sp?) at school without compromising my relationship with the staff” dance was exhausting. I successfully got them to stop serving me meat at my junior high school, but my elementary school was a more difficult task, and I gave up. I decided to eat the meat, but only at school (or in ramen, or if it comes from the sea, or if I can’t see it…and so on, and so on.) One of my favorite dishes was, morbidly, orange chicken.
One evening, while enjoying my daily hazelnut latte across from the McDonald’s near my apartment, I could feel my willpower leaving my body through the foot area, and I caved one last time. I told everyone I had started eating meat again. Nearly everyone I had ever known was elated.
My heart had grown fond, but my tastebuds and stomach acids had grown lusty.
When I first started officially eating meat again, I had to take it slowly, to ease my stomach back into the process, but I was like a caffeinated baby: ready and raring to go. Once I felt like my stomach could handle the red, I went crazy. I jumped so far off of the no-meat bandwagon, I couldn’t even see the car anymore. I ate so much meat, my mom commented when I moved home, “Well, I guess you really aren’t a vegetarian/pescetarian anymore.”
And if you asked me three years ago what my favorite meat was, I would have said “chicken.” I would still say “chicken,” though steak, cooked right, is pretty damn good, too.
That’s where this bird comes in: beer braised chicken. In my quest to learn cooking techniques (poaching, braising, grilling, roasting, and so on), I found a recipe for braised chicken and immediately fell in love…with the end result, but not so much with the recipe itself. It was inordinately complicated, so over the last fifteen-ish months, I’ve simplified it a lot. It’s a franken-braise, hardly reminiscent of the original recipe at all. I don’t even remember where I found the recipe.
Braising is one of those things that feels complicated because people make it complicated. You can find multiples of dozens of braising recipes and styles and techniques and tips online. It’s enough to make your chicken thigh spin (pun.) Since starting this recipe, I’ve tried a few others (coq au vin, braised pork belly, pot roast, to name a few), and every time, I was overwhelmed by the deluge of braising styles. To make things more palatable, I like to think of braising as Six Simple Steps:
Every recipe is just a variation on this. Some recipes use starch, others don’t. Some use a lot of liquid, others only use a little. Different meats take different lengths of time to braise. Some people boil the hell out of the meat (don’t do that.) Others, smartly, don’t let it get above a simmer. Some people pour off the fat, while others (me. it’s me), love the fat. They embrace the fat. You can make gravy with the braising liquid, or serve it as is, or even serve it soupy.
beer braised chicken
2 lbs chicken breast and/or thigh with skin and bone
~4 Tbsp canola or coconut oil (for searing and sautéing)
kosher or sea salt
crushed black pepper
1 large yellow onion
1/4 lb carrots
3 cloves of garlic
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour (or other starch, such as corn, potato, or tapioca)
1/2 a bottle of beer (dark beers, lagers, Pilsners, etc., work best, as opposed to IPAs or flavored beers.)
1 c chicken stock
1 long sprig of fresh rosemary (or 1 Tbsp dried rosemary)
Place chicken, skin side up, on a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet, and cover with paper towels to dry. Let the chicken come to room temperature, sitting out of the fridge for about an hour before you’re ready to sear.
Peel and roughly chop the onion. Chop carrots into thumb-sized chunks and place in a bowl with the onion.
Heat a large, wide sauté pan, braiser, or Dutch oven on medium heat for a few minutes. Add 1-2 Tbsp of the oil and heat.
Make sure the oil covers the entire bottom of the pan/pot. It’s ready when it runs as thin as water or starts to smoke. You can also test the oil by tilting the pan so the oil pools on side, and sticking the end of a wooden spoon into the pool. If it bubbles, it’s ready.
While the pot/pan and oil are heating, peel and mince the garlic cloves and set aside. Measure out and prepare the rest of the ingredients, each ingredient in its own bowl or measuring cup.
Liberally salt and pepper the skin side of the chicken, and when the oil is hot enough, gently place the chicken in the pan, skin side down. Place chicken in one layer with some space in between each piece. Liberally salt and pepper the opposite side.
Flip the chicken after a few minutes, when the skin is nicely bronzed, and continue to sear the opposite side.
Remove chicken, reduce heat to low, and add another 1-2 Tbsp of oil. Set the chicken aside in a bowl, and let the oil heat.
Add the onion and carrots and sauté for about 5 minutes until tender and fragrant, then add the garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes until you can smell it.
Add the flour and cook for another minute or two, stirring/whisking constantly.
If you’re using dried rosemary instead of fresh, add the chopped, dried rosemary at this point and cook another minute or two.
Pour in the half bottle of beer and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let the beer reduce by about half.
Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and add the chicken back in, skin side up, and cover the pot/pan.
Braise/simmer for about 45 minutes, making sure the liquid doesn’t boil, until the chicken is cooked all the way through and falls apart easily.
If using fresh rosemary, mince the rosemary and add it to the chicken after about 40 minutes.
Serve the chicken with the gravy, reducing the sauce after you remove the chicken, if necessary.
See ya on the flip side,
previous monthly muffins
My first year in college, a friend of mine wanted to show me around Los Angeles, so we drove all over, exploring his favorite places (ie., his favorite date spots…) One of the places we visited, a place in which I would end up spending a significant amount of time over the next three years, was Little Tokyo. At this point I had been to Japan once, on a 2-week guided, structured tour, and was in the honeymoon phase of my infatuation with the Land of the Rising Sun.
We wandered around a Japanese grocery store in the little shopping village of Little Tokyo (Maru-something or other), where I found bags of powdered tea. This wasn’t green tea or matcha, mind you, but powdered Royal Milk Tea, one of my absolute favorite things from Japan (though technically it’s from England…and if we’re really splitting hairs, it’s originally from India.) I loved Royal Milk Tea. I still do, but due to developing lactose…problems…I can’t drink it unless I make my own non-dairy version (which I have done, and is almost as good as the dairy version.)
This excursion was in April, just before final exams and summer vacation, so I grabbed a box of the powdered tea and brought it back to North Carolina. The first thing I did when I got home was make earl grey muffins. It was an inspired act, and a brilliant decision: they were heavenly. Possibly the best muffins I had ever had. I haven’t been able to find powdered milk tea since then, but I’ve experimented a bit with black tea pastries (black tea spiced apple pie, black tea butter cookies, and a failed attempt at an earl grey bundt cake.)
The winter before last, December 2015, I dreamt up a recipe for black tea butter cookies, spicy shortbread discs with whole, loose earl grey tea leaves, perfect for balancing on the saucer of a cappuccino mug. After the November and December 2016 muffins, laden with chocolate and other delicious things, I wanted something light, something bordering on celestial.
Right on cue, in sauntered these muffins: earl grey nut muffins. Inspired by a long-ago memory of Royal Milk Tea and Royal Milk Tea muffins, and based on the black tea butter cookies, these muffins are subtly sweet, with the pleasant flavor and aroma of tea, none of the bitterness of caffeine, and an accompaniment of sweet, crunchy walnuts. As with most of my muffins, these are half all-purpose and half whole wheat flour.
And they’re a perfect breakfast treat.
earl grey nut muffins
makes 1 dozen
150 g all-purpose flour
150 g whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
a hefty pinch of kosher salt
4 bags of black tea (8 grams of tea)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
180 g granulated sugar
180 g milk
1 tsp almond or walnut extract
2 large eggs (~50 grams each)
120 g canola oil
120 g chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 F/190 C, and line a muffin pan with paper muffin liners.
In a small bowl, combine all-purpose and whole wheat flours, baking powder, salt, loose tea (cut open the tea bags with scissors), and cinnamon.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, milk, extract, eggs, and canola oil.
Dump dry ingredients into wet mixture and combine, then whisk in chopped nuts and mix until almost completely combined.
Using a large spoon or cookie scoop, scoop the batter into the muffin pan so each cup is 2/3 – 3/4 of the way full.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the muffin tops spring back when pressed lightly, or a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean.
Remove the muffins from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then remove them from the pan and let them cool on a wire rack.
Cheerio and all that,
I remember the good ol’ days of getting out of my car at 10:00 p.m. and watching my glasses fog up immediately. Those precious “is that sweat, rain, or the humidity?” moments. The 5:00 am sunrise and “will the sun ever set?” times.
But those are over now. My glasses don’t fog up anymore and I can walk around without fainting.
I’ve finally finished up all the frozen summer berries and started stocking up on pumpkin puree, sweet potatoes, and various apples in anticipation of autumn sweets, and let me tell you, I’m anticipating a lot of sweets.
About a year ago I started really exploring pie crust. I watched every YouTube video and read every recipe I could find. I tried every possible technique the Web would show me, and even did a bit of scientific experimentation, complete with sticky labels and test batches and all.
It was very official, y’all.
And then I took an autumn pie workshop at Scratch Bakery last October, and everything I thought I had figured out was flipped, turned right upside down on its very head. I stuck with the recipes from that workshop for months, until I took a pie class at work, and everything was made even simpler by the pastry chef. The first thing she taught us when we got to work on the dough was a universal ratio for the dough: 3 parts flour, 2 parts cold butter, 1 part ice water.
It was pie-vana. I had a pie-alization. The flaky, buttery dough, the rich summer berries, the dark almond-flavored cherries, they all came together to form one simple truth:
Pie is easy.
And now a full year later, making the dough is like second nature: I toss everything into a food processor, no gimmicks or silly tricks, squeeze it into a ball, and freeze it. And it turns out well every time!
Now that the crust is a breeze, I want to expand on my fillings. Last year, I made Spiced Chai Apple Streusel Pie and Boozy Pecan Rum Pie for the holidays. I’m already dreaming up new autumn and winter combinations for this year (Pear and Fennel, Chocolate Peppermint, or Limoncello Brûlée?)
I’ve also been playing around a little bit with free-form tarts (Italian: crostata; French: galette) and just filling them with a layer of fruit and spices. One evening, when I was really feeling the impending leaf-changing and air-crisping, I sliced up some apples (skins on because I can’t be bothered to peel them), and mixed up some sugar and spices. I threw in some dried rosemary and assembled the tart, then when it was in the oven, I placed some leftover rosemary sprigs (I had made focaccia that day, as well) on top for an extra flavor infusion, and voila!
rosemary spiced apple crostata (crostata di mele e rosmarino)
makes two 7″, or one 9-10″ crostata
200 – 300 g red apples
50 g granulated sugar
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp dried rosemary leaves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1-2 fresh rosemary sprigs (with or without leaves)
1 egg yolk, for washing
1 spoonful raw, turbinado, or demerara sugar, for coating
Core and slice the apples. You can peel them if you want, but they’re just as good with the skin on. Set the slices aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together sugar, flour, and spices. Set aside.
Roll dough out into a circle or a square a few millimeters thick. With a bench scraper or spatula, mark approximately halfway (both vertically and horizontally) between edges, then 2/3 of the way between the outer edge of the dough and your marking. You should now have slight marks/scores 1/6 of the way in from the edge of the dough, and halfway across. This is just a guide for how much of the dough to fill and how much to fold.
Spread about 2/3 of the spice mixture between the outer markings (so the middle 2/3 of the dough, leaving the outer 1/3 border empty.)
Layer the apples on top of the spices, and sprinkle the other 1/3 of the spices over the apples.
Fold the edges of the dough in, pinching them together where they overlap.
Freeze the tart for at least half an hour to let it chill.
Preheat your oven to 425 F/220 C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Brush the edges of the tart with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake the tart for 30 – 40 minutes until the crust is bronze and the filling is bubbly.
Remove and transfer to a wire rack with the parchment paper underneath the tart.
Cut and enjoy!
Tarts to you later,
I’m coming down from a summer cooking/baking/working/traveling/prepping-for-school high and feeling autumn all throughout my bones. I even attempted to make pumpkin spice latte syrup the other day (it was semi-successful and definitely something I will keep working on.) It’s not even October yet and I’m already thinking of what I’ll make for Thanksgiving dessert, which cookie recipes to develop for the holidays, and which Starbucks is closest to my house (I want a PSL, y’all.)
I’m sure I’m not the first person to think of either loaded cookies or brown sugar cookies, but I came to this somewhat organically. And by somewhat, I mean I was inspired by my friend’s Cottage Food Organization, Beurre Pastry Shop, a bakery she runs out of her house in the Bay Area. She makes loaded cookie bars and they just look mouthwatering-ly brilliant. I didn’t want to copy her entirely…and I’m still hurting from My Year of Pretending to Be Julie Powell and Julia Child and Making a F***ton of Bars…so I decided on cookies instead.
The first batch were pretty damn good. The second batch were…so-so. Apparently my note-taking skills are still rusty (it’s been 3 years since I’ve been a student, okay?) and I left out half of the butter. By the third and fourth batches (just making small tweaks to get the recipe perfect), I figured everyone in my house and my stomach were stuffed, so I settled on the recipe below. At first, I thought I would incorporate about three or four flavors, but I ended up with seven: coconut, white chocolate, peanut butter, vanilla, almond, pecan, and dark chocolate. (That’s seven if you don’t count the base of brown sugar.)
They’re like little block parties in the mouth.
loaded brown sugar cookies
makes 4 dozen small (2 tsp) or 1 dozen large (3 Tbsp/8-9 tsp)
The chilling before scooping is really just a precaution that can be helpful with most cookies. When you soften the butter, then beat it constantly with the other ingredients, it gets closer and closer to melting, so chilling the dough gives the oven a headstart before the butter (the dough) melts too much. You can bake the dough as soon as you assemble it, too.
240 g all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
dash of salt
1 c unsalted butter, softened and at room temperature
200 g dark brown sugar
2 large egg yolks (0.6 ounces/17 g each)
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
add-ins: chopped dark chocolate, peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, pecans, walnuts, shredded coconut (20 – 50 g each)
2~3 Tbsp raw, turbinado, or demerara sugar for finishing
In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl or electric stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes with the paddle attachment.
With the mixer running, beat in the egg yolks and extracts. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula and beat until smooth and fluffy.
Beat in the flour mixture in 2-3 additions, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. When the dough is almost totally combined, toss in the add-ins all at once and keep beating until they’re mixed in and the dough is uniform.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 F/175 C. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Using a small (2 teaspoon) scoop (or a large, 4-tsp scoop if you want larger cookies), scoop the dough onto the baking sheets, spacing each cookie about 2-4 inches apart. Sprinkle a pinch of raw/turbinado/demerara sugar on top, and bake 10 – 15 minutes until just starting to brown around the edges.
Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then transfer the cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling.
I like them best chilled and eaten straight from the fridge, but warm and gooey is good, too!
It’s party time, y’all
previous saturday spices:
Aaaaaaand we’re back!
How are you?
For those of you who missed the previous episode of Saturday Spice, we covered the beginning of the history of vanilla, an orchid native to Mexico and now grown primarily on Madagascar. Today, let’s look at the science of the plant, and do our own little vanilla tasting.
First things first, I am the realest.
Now that that’s out of the way,
Vanilla Planifolia, Flat-Leaf Vanilla, thrives in humid habitats, so it only makes sense that the 4 main producers of vanilla are tropical regions: Madagascar, Mexico, Tahiti, and Indonesia. The genus vanilla is the only member of the orchidaceae family, one of the oldest families of flowering plants, that bears any fruit, the vanilla bean pod*.
*Unlike lima and pinto beans, “vanilla beans” are actually seed pods, and the phrase is a misnomer. Officially, they’re “vanilla pods.”
Taking one step up the household staircase, we can see that the orchids are a member of the Asparagales order, otherwise known as the “asparagus and orchid” order. So…vanilla is related to asparagus? That’s nasty.
But I joke. The distance between such flavorfully opposed species is vast, and the family includes a wide range of other common garden plants, bulbs, and flowers. Some other siblings of vanilla and asparagus are hyacinths, narcissi, aloe, garlic, and onions. I’m no taxonomist, but those all seem pretty far apart to me.
One more step up, one more league separated: the Asparagus order is a member of the superorder of Lilianae, a superorder of flowering plants (angiosperms.) Orchids produce flowers, and vanilla produces fruit. Therefore: angiosperm.
I’ll bet you my bottom dollar that lilies are also members of the Lilianae superorder.
I could go on and on up the family tree, but that would take ages (and I’m abysmal at tree-climbing), so here’s the rest of it, abridged:
Infrakingdom: Strep throat…I mean….Streptophyta (land plants)
Subdivision: Spermatophytina (seeding plants)
And you know the rest.
The vanilla orchid is a fleshy climbing vine that uses roots to cling to other surfaces, and can grow over 30 meters in length. During only two months each year, the green flowers bloom in groups, and the make matters worse (vanilla is a very picky plant), the orchid grows only 10-20 degrees north and south of the equator.
¡Qué lástima, Alaska!
After blooming, the flowers last a mere 24 hours before they wilt and fall. If pollinated, the vanilla pod will grow up to 20 centimeters over the course of 4-6 weeks, then spend the next 8 months maturing before harvest. When the base of the green pod starts to turn brown, it’s reaping time.
The uncured (raw) pods contain no flavor, but thousands of seeds. The flavor we know and love develops during the curing and fermentation process (topic of a later article), and differs depending on where the plant is grown.
Vanilla is the 2nd most expensive spice in the world (1st is saffron), because the pollination process must be done by hand in countries where the Mellipona bee does not exist, and is extremely labor-intensive. The bee is native to Mexico, having co-evolved with the orchid, but since Albus’s discovery of a hand-pollination method that aids in growth of the fruit in other countries, the other vanilla-producing regions have been using long, wooden needles to pollinate the flowers.
Imagine all the vanilla bakers use. Now imagine all the vanilla plants that contribute to the product. And now imagine pollinating all of those plants with your index finger…all for a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Vanilla is both the saffron and garlic of baking: precious and expensive, but among the most ubiquitous of all ingredients.
regions and varieties
There are four major vanilla-producing regions: the Bourbon Islands (Madagascar, etc.), Mexico, Tahiti, and Indonesia. 95% of the vanilla we consume is of the original species, planifolia, but 75% of the world’s vanilla crop is grown in the Bourbon Islands, which include Madagascar, Comoro, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Réunion.
The vanilla that we imagine when we dream of vanilla, the sweet, warm, creamy fragrance, is Bourbon vanilla from Africa. Hailing from the same species of orchid are Indonesian, woody, smoky, and ideal in chocolates, and Mexican (duh), creamy with a hint of spice. Mexican vanilla makes up the smallest percentage of the world’s crop, ironically.
Slightly more aggressive than its African counterpart, Mexican vanilla shines the most in sauces, like salsa and barbecue sauce, and pairs well with other bitter spices, like cloves and cinnamon.
The highest quality of vanilla, Bourbon vanilla is ideal for dishes where the bean isn’t the star of the show, but rather a complement to other flavors: chocolate chip cookies where the chocolate and brown sugar shine through, blueberry muffins that showcase the fruit and the buttermilk, or buttery shortbread.
Tahitian vanilla, on the other hand, is its own species, vanilla tahitensis, a hybrid of two older species of the orchid. The pod of Tahitian vanilla is plumper than that of planifolia, with a sweeter, cherry-like flavor. There are fewer seeds and less of the vanillin compound, so a slightly-reduced vanilla flavor, with hints of anise and fruit. As a result, Tahitian vanilla is best in dishes where the bean is the belle: custards, creams, syrups, and really anything with “vanilla” in the name.
The next time you’re making crème brûlée, try scraping the seeds from a Tahitian vanilla pod into the custard.
This was fun. Let’s hang out more often,
Earthy Delights. A Brief History of Vanilla.
KEW: Royal Botanical Gardens. Vanilla Planifolia. www.kew.org.
Kitchen Daily. “Types of Vanilla: Mexican, Tahitian, and Madagascar.” Huffington Post Taste. 2012 Aug. 31.
Ruggiero, Jocelyn. “The 4 Kinds of Vanilla Beans to Know.” Food & Wine. 2015 July 23.
Rupp, Rebecca. “The History of Vanilla.” National Geographic: The Plate. 2014 Oct. 23.
Schneider, Caitlin. “The Flavorful History of Vanilla.” 2015 Oct. 6. mental_floss.
Spiegel, Alison. “It’s About Time You Knew Exactly Where Vanilla Comes From.” HuffPost Taste. Huffington Post. Online. 2014 Nov. 6.
Vanilla’s Origins. Nielsen-Massey Vanillas.
“Vanilla”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online.
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2016. 08 Mar. 2016
ginger: health benefits
Categories: saturday spice