Baking School In-Depth: Vanilla Extract and Very Vanilla Layer Cake

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VANILLA PODS: Vanilla pods, with their lush flavor and aromatic essence, are the basis for creating vanilla extracts, powders, sugars and paste. Regardless of their shape, vanilla pods infuse every product with their intoxicating fragrance and complex flavor. When purchasing vanilla beans, Grade A beans, which boast a moisture content above 25 percent, tend to be more expensive. However, their high moisture content makes it easy to extract flavor, perfect for scraping out the insides of the bean or infusing it into various blends. Grade B beans, with less than 25% moisture, are cheaper; although they release flavor at a slower rate, once they do, the resulting flavor is richer and more concentrated, making them ideal for long-term infusions like vanilla extract.

GRANULAR SUGAR: Granulated sugar reigns supreme as a favorite ingredient of vanilla sugar, imparting sweetness and texture with its medium-sized crystals. In vanilla paste and powder, this sugar takes on the dual role of main sweetener and texture enhancer.

TURBINED SUGAR: Turbinado sugar has larger, coarser crystals with a light brown color due to minimal processing. It adds a subtle molasses flavor and crunchy texture, enhancing the overall taste and mouthfeel of the vanilla sugar.

CASTER SUGAR: Granulated sugar, which is finely ground granulated sugar, helps to quickly infuse the vanilla flavor due to its fine texture, resulting in the immediate release of the vanilla aroma and taste into the vanilla sugar.

CORN SYRUP: Corn syrup in vanilla bean paste contributes to its smooth texture. It helps bind the ingredients together and prevents the dough from becoming too thick or grainy. It also helps prevent sugar crystallization in the paste. Corn syrup has hygroscopic properties, like sugar, meaning it attracts and holds moisture. This helps prevent it from drying out and prolongs its life.

CORNSTARCH: Cornstarch contributes to the consistency of vanilla powder, giving it a finer, smoother texture. This ensures that the powder dissolves effortlessly when added to liquids or mixes, ensuring even flavor distribution. Cornstarch also stabilizes vanilla powder, extending its shelf life by reducing moisture content and preventing clumping or dehydration.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

MIXER: A blender expertly combines vanilla pods, sugar and liquids into a silky-smooth vanilla bean paste, ensuring even distribution of seeds and a consistent consistency throughout. (Pictured below: Breville Fresh & Furious blender.)

SPICE GRINDER: To create vanilla powder or vanilla sugar, whole vanilla pods must be finely ground to unlock their rich flavor and aroma. A grinder effectively pulverizes the beans into fine particles, ensuring the vanilla essence is evenly dispersed into the powder or sugar. (Pictured below: Cuisinart spice and nut grinder.)

MIRROR KNIFE: Featuring its small size, sharp edge and precision, a paring knife is ideal for handling delicate tasks like splitting vanilla pods. The narrow blade facilitates accurate cuts along the length of the bean, resulting in a clean, uniform split. (Pictured below: Zwilling Pro Paring Knife.)

SPATULAS: A silicone spatula is perfect for gently running the blade of a paring knife, removing every precious seed and leaving nothing to go to waste. (Pictured below: Get It Right Mini Spatula, Get It Right Ultimate Spatula.)

SIEVE: We love this durable stainless steel strainer. It features ergonomically shaped handles that make it convenient to strain the seeds from the extract if you prefer. (Pictured below: 3 piece fully coated stainless steel filter set.)

SHEARS: Cutting off the ends of whole vanilla pods soaked in extract is an effective method of harvesting the seeds for making vanilla paste. This process allows you to easily squeeze the seeds. Additionally, using shears to cut the beans into smaller segments is helpful when making vanilla extract or infused sugars. This step increases the surface area of ​​the beans, improving flavor extraction for a more robust vanilla flavor in your creations. (Pictured below: Zwilling multipurpose kitchen shears.)

TALL CYLINDRICAL POTS: Brian loves using tall, narrow Weck jars to store his vanilla extract while it's developing. These jars are elegant and the perfect size to allow the vanilla pods to stand upright and be covered entirely in alcohol without needing to be bent or cut to fit. (Pictured below: Weck Cylindrical Jars, 20.2 Ounce, Set of 6.)

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