I want to share with you today two products that have made a huge difference in my baking results. I know most home cooks rely on good old-fashioned vanilla extract for their baking needs largely because it’s easy to find and relatively affordable. Real vanilla extract is made by macerating vanilla beans in a mixture of alcohol and water. Always look for real vanilla extract rather than imitation which tends to have a metallic aftertaste.
For professional bakers and chefs, vanilla beans, while more expensive, are the ultimate in flavoring and scenting baked goods. Vanilla beans consist of a waxy dark brown pod filled with thousands of little brown flavorful specks. When purchasing them, you want to make sure the beans are plump and smooth, never dry. When you use these in your baking , thousands of little black dots fleck throughout your batter. When I bake lighter color and texture desserts like white cakes, cheesecakes or cupcakes I try to use a vanilla bean because the flavor is so intense and the visual component of being able to see the little black specks in the finished product looks so much better.
So then we have vanilla paste. In many ways, vanilla paste could be thought of as a great in between option. It’s essentially a small jar of the scraped-out vanilla pod, so you’re going to get that super fragrant, sweet, speckled end product with the convenience of a quick scoop of the teaspoon. Follow the directions on the jar for conversions in your recipes. Let me know what you think after you try it!
The second awesome product is Rose’s Heavenly Cake Strips (I bought mine on amazon.com). I have been a longtime fan of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, and have tried many of the recipes in this cookbook. She is truly the master of cake baking and when I heard about this product on her blog I had to buy them. These pink silicone strips slip over the outside of your pans while baking and they really do make a big difference in the look and texture of your layer cakes. The layers bake more uniformly and you don’t have the “crusting” and doming that sometimes happens when you are baking the individual layers in different racks in your oven. These strips also help when you are baking cheesecakes in a springform pan – they help keep the top of the cheesecake from cracking. The best part is that they are inexpensive and last for years. Let me know what you think after you’ve tried them!
Today is a gorgeous, cloudless Sunday afternoon in Northern California. I plan on taking a nice leisurely bike ride, then I am off to Trader Joes’ to stock up for next week’s baking. Wherever you are, I hope you are having a special day. Thanks for reading, Susan