Baking Essentials: Vanilla

With a distinct aroma that sweetly fills the air, vanilla is one of the most used flavorings found in pastries, cakes, cookies, candy, and other desserts. At one point in time, vanilla was so rare and priceless that only royalty had access to the flavoring. Today, nearly almost every kitchen uses the flavor in some form. While there are plenty of imitations on the market, the cheaper man-made vanilla extract cannot compare to pure vanilla. If you are interested in baking a masterpiece or creating something sweet in the kitchen, vanilla is certainly a baking essential.

Vanilla extract comes from vanilla pods (or beans). There are three common types that you may encounter: Madagascar or Bourbon- Madagascar, Mexican, and Tahitian. Vanilla is the fruit of a thick green orchid vine that comes from regions, such as the islands of Madagascar and regions in the Indian Ocean. The vine also grows wildly in Mexico – producing a thicker, darker bean with a strong flavor. Tahitian vanilla beans are the thickest and are nearly black in color.

The green pods of the vine are picked by hand in an unripened state and undergo a fermentation process that can take between two to six months. The beans turn into a dark brown color as they age. The vanilla pods are then dried and cured to enhance their flavor.

Vanilla is sold in many different forms, including the very popular extract, pods (beans), powdered, essence and vanilla sugar. The vanilla extract often used in the kitchen is made by steeping the vanilla beans in an alcohol and water solution for several months. Some manufacturers will add sugar to produce a clear dark liquid with a rich flavor.

Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

To experience the flavor of fresh vanilla extract, you can make your own by cutting one whole vanilla bean in half – lengthwise. Place the vanilla bean in ¾ cup of vodka, which equals out to 180 milliliters. Cover the contents tightly and let steep for six months before using.

When cooking, keep in mind that one whole vanilla bean equals two to three teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Vanilla Cupcakes

Cupcakes are one of the trendiest desserts around. From simple vanilla to more extravagant flavors like lemon and red velvet, cupcakes are always a fun and delicious treat. The pint sized dessert has only been around for about 200 years but they have always been popular. Once called 1-2-3-4 cakes for the simplicity of ingredients, this dessert was revolutionary for its portability and easiness to prepare. The original cupcake recipe was very similar to a butter cake, only baked in small tin cups, hence the name cupcake.

This recipe is much like the original cupcake recipe of the 19th century. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it is yummy. Homemade cupcakes have a certain something special about them. Maybe it’s the real butter and the vanilla bean flecks from the vanilla bean extract peppered throughout the light, airy cake that make them special or maybe it’s the simple, pure ingredients from a timeless recipe. Whatever it is, this is one dessert that you will be proud to serve. And eat. Top with homemade chocolate frosting or eat them warm from the oven with a glass of milk. Enjoy!

vanilla cupcakes

1 c sugar
1/2 c butter, softened
2 eggs
2 tsps vanilla bean extract
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 c milk


1. Beat butter and sugar until well combined.

2. Add eggs one at a time.

3. Stir in the vanilla bean extract.

4. Add flour and baking powder into the mix, then slowly incorporate the milk.

5. Spoon batter into paper cups or in a greased muffin pan and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes.

Thanksgiving Desserts: Coconut Bread Pudding

This recipe is courtesy of Chad Carns, the author of “The Gourmet Bachelor, Global Flavor, Local Ingredients” cookbook — Thank you, Chad!

Bread Pudding
3 c milk
3 c unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 c sweetened coconut flakes
1 loaf French bread, 1-inch cubes
3 eggs
3/4 c sugar
2 T vanilla extract
1 T butter

bread_pudding_049Mango Sauce
1 mango, peeled and sliced
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c water
1 vanilla bean, cut open

Bread Pudding: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix milk, coconut milk, coconut flakes and bread in a large bowl. Whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in a small mixing bowl and then add to bread mixture. Grease a 13 x 9-inch baking pan with butter. Spoon the bread mixture into the pan. Bake on the upper rack of oven until the bread pudding has set and is golden brown on top, about 45 minutes.

Mango sauce: Simmer ingredients for 10 minutes. Remove vanilla bean. Blend in a food processor until smooth. Serve pudding on a bed of mango sauce.

Pairing: Sauternes, France

Thanksgiving Desserts: Danish Apple Cake

This is a light “apple pie” type of dessert great for the whole family. This recipe is courtesy of Chef Lisa Beels.

Danish Apple Cake
If making this for kids: only ages 1 year and up. Little ones can eat the small apple pieces, or heat some apple pieces covered, over low heat in a small pot for 10 minutes and puree into apple sauce.
I’m part Danish by heritage and this has been on our fall menu for years – it’s absolutely delicious!

danish apple cake
photo courtesy of Chef Lisa Beels

1 1/2 cup NY State MacIntosh apples, peeled and chopped (only use sweet crispy apples in this recipe)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2/3 cup flour
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Beat together the eggs, sugar, vanilla and melted butter.
Stir in sifted flour, salt and baking soda.
Add the chopped apples, cinnamon and nutmeg; mix well.
Pour into a greased pie plate and bake for 30 minutes or until top is golden brown and center is set.

About the Chef: Lisa Beels is co-founder of (gourmet, organic baby food) and a trained chef (she attends Le Cordon Bleu in London). She is co-author of The Petite Palate Quick and Easy Guide to Baby Food. Her blog:

Thanksgiving Desserts: Pocahontas Pudding Recipe

Today we are featuring a very unique, absolutely delicious and affordable recipe, courtesy of: Del Monte “Stretch Your Dollar” Campaign; this no-cook nosh is a fun dessert for the kids to help with.
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cooking Time: 0 Minutes
Servings: 4
·         20 vanilla wafers
·         4 ctn. (4 oz. each) prepared vanilla flavored pudding cups
·         1 can (8-3/4 oz.) DEL MONTE® Yellow Cling Sliced Peaches, drained
pocahontas pudding recipeDirections
1.      Crumble 2 vanilla wafers into bottoms of each of four small dessert dishes.
2.      Spoon small amount of pudding over crumbs.
3.      Place peach slices on pudding. Spoon on remaining pudding; chill.
4.      Stand 3 vanilla wafers in wigwam style on pudding in each dish before serving.

Enjoy! Thank you, Del Monte!

Fluffy Baked Doughnuts Recipe

Today we customized one of the most delicious doughnuts recipes out there. The original recipe can be found here.

Preparation Time: approx. 20 minutes
Baking Time: approx. 10 minutes
Total time: approx. 30 minutes
Servings: 12

fluffy doughnutsIngredients:
#  2 cups cake flour
# 3/4 cup white sugar
# 2 teaspoons baking powder
# 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
# 1/2teaspoon ground cinnamon
# 1 teaspoon salt
# 3/4 cup buttermilk
# 2 eggs, beaten
# 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
# 1 tablespoon melted butter
# 200g milk chocolate
# 200ml fresh cream
# grated nestle peppermint crisp

#  Preheat oven to 338F/170c. Lightly grease a doughnut pan.
# In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Stir in buttermilk, eggs, vanilla and butter. Beat together until well blended.
# Fill each doughnut cup approximately 3/4 full. Bake 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until doughnuts spring back when touched. Allow to cool slightly before removing from pan.

# Bring the cream to boil, remove from stove and add your chocolate. Mix until all chocolate is melted.
# Dip cooled doughnuts into ganache and top with grated peppermint crisp.

My kids finished these within an hour…LOL. I got to taste just one.

Enjoy!! And let us know if you liked them!

30th Birthday Cake

This is a picture we absolutely love! It is courtesy of neviepiecakes. Here are more details from the designer herself:

“This was a three tiered cake. The bottom layer was lemon, the middle was vanilla with strawberry jam and the top was chocolate mud with ganache. The cookie on top was vanilla. I hand painted the roses and details. This was my first painted cake and I’m really pleased with how it came out. It was for my husbands step-sister as our birthday present to her. She was really pleased with it and didn’t want to cut it, so went home from her party with roughly 70 portions of cake!”