Saturday, 10 May 2008

Vanilla flavoured heaven

I always think it’s sad that the phrase ‘vanilla flavoured’ is used to describe something that’s a bit bland and ordinary. I love the scent and flavour of vanilla; it’s right up there with cinnamon and rising bread in my top three baking scents. This is why today’s lunch was vanilla-flavoured heaven and I plan to repeat it EVERY day this week!

Despite my love of vanilla I have never until now cooked with real vanilla beans. I suppose I’m just a cheapskate. But I found a ‘two for one’ deal at Julian Graves a few weeks ago and stocked up. I hadn’t decided what to use them for yet, but then I saw that Master Baker’s theme ingredient for the month was vanilla, so that gave me a bit of a nudge. The Scientist has requested a dessert break for a little while after all the baking I’ve done recently, and I have imposed a no-freezer ban (apart from one tiny exception which I will write about soon, and it doesn’t count because it’s banana bread and that is above all rules). So cake and biscuits were out. Leafing through a Donna Hay book in Sainsbury’s the other week, however, I stumbled on an easy-sounding recipe for rhubarb and vanilla jam, and when I searched around for it later I found that Arfi at HomeMadeS (a New Zealand blogger with an absolute gift for photography, though she’s extremely modest about it) had made it and posted the recipe. I had rhubarb from the Leeds farmers’ market to use up, and decided that was the way my vanilla flavoured post would go, complete with real vanilla pods.

But this is me, and I rarely go for the simple option. After making the jam (which smelt delicious) I started to have thoughts of a vanilla bread for it to go on. I was initially thinking of an enriched challah-type bread, but then found a recipe for what looked more like a regular type of bread but with added vanilla. I looked up vanilla in the index of my copy of Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery, which stated uncategorically that it is an abhorrent idea as a bread ingredient. I was undeterred – she is, after all, only a baking guru, and besides, I wasn’t mixing vanilla with other spices which seemed to be what she objected to.

The bread was straightforward, and the dough rose beautifully in the sun. It came out of the oven looking lovely and soft and golden, and when it was cut you could see the vanilla seeds flecked through it (the originally recipe called for vanilla flavouring, but I had used half the quantity of that, and scraped in half a vanilla pod). I was ravenous for lunch by the time it was ready, but couldn’t decide what to put on it that wouldn’t hide its delicate flavour. Finally I went with whimsy and had it buttered with goat’s cheese, fig chutney and watercress. It was divine: the best lunch ever. I had to do a little lunch dance as I ate it. I had another piece with the rhubarb jam on it and that was wonderful too. The jam was very sweet – I might cut back on the sugar another time, but had a lovely vanilla flavour to it, and nice big gollops of rhubarb. It isn’t quite as green as the photo makes it look, but certainly greener than I expected! If that’s a vanilla flavoured lunch, though, I’ll take it every time. Thank you, Master Baker, for setting this particular ball rolling.

Heavenly rhubarb and vanilla jam (Donna Hay, and made by Arfi)

250g (8 ¾ oz) rhubarb, trimmed and chopped, 1 cup caster (superfine) sugar, 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste), 2 Tbs water

Place the rhubarb, sugar, vanilla and water in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until thickened. Remove the vanilla bean and discard. Spoon the jam into a sterilised 1-cup (8 fl oz) capacity glass jar and seal. Makes 1 cup (8 fl oz). This jam can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Ambrosial vanilla bread (from

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups warm water
1 pkg dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp vanilla extract [I used about 1 tbsp and then scraped in the seeds from half a vanilla pod]
1/3 cup instant nonfat dry milk
3 3/4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

Stir water and yeast together in large mixing bowl and let stand for a minute to dissolve. Add sugar, salt, vanilla, dry milk and 2 cups of the flour. Beat briskly for 2 minutes. Add enough more flour to make a soft, manageable dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead a minute or two. Let rest 10 minutes.

Resume kneading, adding just enough flour to keep dough from becoming sticky, until it is smooth and elastic. Place in large greased bowl, cover, and let rise until double in bulk.

Punch down and shape into a loaf. Place in a greased 9x5x3 loaf pan, cover, and let rise to the top of the pan. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 50 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a rack.

Apparently cats are unimpressed by jam


LisaRene said...

Very creative and extensive use of the vanilla bean! Rhubarb vanilla jam on vanilla bread sounds like heaven. Don't throw out the empty pod, put it in your lingerie drawer or in some sugar.

Johanna said...

even when cats are impressed they are loath to show it - your photo of your moggy and the jam gave me a laugh! I am not a vanilla lover but will always enjoy rhubarb jam and am intrigued by this bread (I don't take everything elizabeth david says as gospel either) - wish I could have seen you do your lunch dance :-)

Lysy said...

Damn - I never thought of using the empty pod to flavour things! I did put in the half I didn't use in the bread to flavour some sugar. Vanilla scented underwear sounds lovely though!

My lunch dance is quite well optimised to show appreciation without letting the food go cold. It consists of some upper-body wiggling with accompanying elbow movements, while making appreciative 'mmmn mmmmn mmmn' noises. I find it adds to the overall enjoyment experience. I'm not sure this is normal behaviour now I come to think of it...

Munchkin Granny said...

I'm booking my next lunch invite !!

Munchkin grannyx

Ilana said...

yay, a successful comment from munchkin granny!

i think you need to come and live in our house. you can do some history research round the edges of being our cook... whadya think?