Friday, December 07, 2007

What a Cook Wants, VII

Real F***in' Vanilla
I am not a baker. Not even close. I can bake a chocolate cake with milk chocolate frosting for your birthday, the family brownie recipe, passable banana bread and this past Thanksgiving, God help us all, fancy pants biscuits that were nearly tender. But I am not a baker.
However there was a time in my life when I made crème brûlée once a week, during that Nantucket summer of love. I encountered a *real* vanilla bean during that first terrifying custard experience. It was weird. It looked like a shriveled up monkey finger a witch would throw into a smoky cauldron, but the scent! Totally different from my mom's small bottles of alcohol-drenched vanilla extract. The fragrance was creamy and rich, with a slight green vegetal note at the back and whispers of jasmine. I was shocked such a creepy object could smell suspiciously like the love of God. When I cut one open and scraped out the itsy bitsy flecks with the tip of a knife, I finally understood the value of the speckles in the "fancy" Breyer's French vanilla ice cream of my youth. Ahhhh.
So if you love a baker, spend the $7 for three beans at Penzeys (check out all their spices while you're there, they rock). Tahitian beans are on the fruity/spicy side, Madagasgar beans have creamy, orchid notes and Mexican vanilla beans are darker, woody and very mysterious. You really can't go wrong, and you might be rewarded with ambrosial delights!
$7 for 3 beans, or $27 for 15 beans. Be sure to take a sniff before you hand them over!

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