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Don’t let vanilla get the upper hand


In baking, as in life, there is usually a right way and a wrong way of doing things. An example of doing things the wrong way would be opening the vanilla extract with your molars rather than your hands. Don’t do it, I urge you. You need your molars - or what’s left of them after a lifetime of molar-shattering muesli - more than you need the vanilla.

Now, I’ve always maintained that good cooking techniques come from intelligent thinking,
not from expensive gadgets. So, on the back of a recent and painful molar vs vanilla clash,

I’ve come up with three molar-bypassing solutions to the vexing issue of fiddly essence bottles.
The first solution is low cost; the second solution has the benefit of immediacy; and the third is
playing the long game, but means you get to rearrange your store-cupboard without having to
actually chuck things out.

Solution 1: Do without. Lots of recipes call for vanilla extract or essence and I would argue that truly, they needn’t. If you feel that the lack of vanilla leaves an untenable vacuum in your recipe, fill it with something in powder form instead: ginger, cinnamon, espresso, cardamom, allspice, though not perhaps cayenne or paprika. (Basic tonal rule of flavours in baking: browns and beiges are good; reds, yellows and greens less so.)

Solution 2: Study your kitchen shears. You know that funny little bit in the middle that looks like a comedy shark mouth with jagged teeth? Always wondered what that’s for? It’s for opening the vanilla essence. Also for opening olive oil, vinegar and, importantly, screw-cap wine bottles. Also for opening walnuts, crab claws and pesky little Kinder Egg toys when your pesky little kinder haven’t got bigger problems to bother you with.

Solution 3: Recycle. Rummage at the back of your herbs & spices cupboard for those ridiculously expensive vanilla pods you bought a while back thinking, wrongly, that normal people have time to faff with vanilla pods. Take a springclip preserving jar, fill it with organic fair trade golden caster sugar (or the supermarket normal white stuff - that’s between you and your conscience), push in the vanilla pods, close the lid and put back in your store cupboard. In a bit (a week, a month, a decade or two), your sugar will be beautifully infused with vanilla and all you need do is add a few spoonfuls of this as part of the recipe’s sugar quota.

The obvious drawback with Solution 3 is that it might be many, many years before you find the jar again. Which is exactly why I suggest a springclip jar: arthritic fingers (and no molars) shouldn’t be a barrier to baking with vanilla once you have set your heart on it. 

Posted: 02-Aug-14


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