Vanilla: Bakerman’s Shangri-La!

by Sanjeev Kapoor

It’s delicate, it’s floral and it’s a baker’s perfume! Vanilla has an essence that can get your salivary glands working over time. One good example is the aroma of vanilla that hits you when you drive past the Parle biscuit factory at the Mumbai suburb Vile Parle…the smell of freshly baked biscuits is enough to give you a feel good experience. Always thought it would be wonderful for the people staying there!

In most homes where baking is an oft performed activity, a bottle of vanilla essence is bound to be there. I use vanilla essence creatively in some halwas too especially the one in which I caramalise the sugar first. Christmas will bring in vanilla cream set in moulds and some evenings the night cap could be hot chocolate with vanilla. And vanilla ice cream? The flavour on top of the charts never ever gets boring, in fact it makes many desserts like sizzling brownies so much more exciting…or a huge scoop of it in fizzy cola…

Most of us have grown up with the knowledge that vanilla means vanilla essence and the vanilla pod is sadly not visible or rarely accessible. But with changing times, it now is and the easiest way to use the pods is to spilt them, remove the seeds, dry the pods and then store them in sugar containers for several days thus spreading the aroma of vanilla in the sugar. This sugar is superb for cakes etc. Alternatively, soak the seeds in hot milk and use the flavoured milk for sweet puddings. 

In fact, it is very interesting to know why vanilla essence is priced high. Vanilla is one of the world’s most labour-intensive crop. Three years from seed to first flowering …then each flower is hand pollinated (life span is one day...if you miss then wait for another year!)…the beans once there remain on the vine for nine months to get completely filled with the signature aroma. But funnily when the beans are harvested they are flavourless and sans fragrance…the curing process, elaborate, three-four month process with sun drying brings on the fragrance. A kilogram of beans produces about 1.5 gallons of extract. Single extract is not as strong as the double extract and this is what we use as vanilla essence…hence a drop or two suffices in most cakes and cookies. 

Vanilla is native to Mexico and it was used by the Aztecs for flavouring their royal drink xocolatl - a mixture of cocoa beans, vanilla and honey. Europeans prefer to use the bean, while North Americans usually use the extract. Mexican, Tahitian, Indonesian and Bourbon vanilla are the main varieties. In India excellent vanilla crops come from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. 

Whole pods can be stored in airtight jars, kept in cool, dark place whereas the essence and extract are best stored in a cool dark place or in a refrigerator. 

Vanilla is not confined to the kitchen. If it smells so nice, the perfumeries are bound to use it as well as those who practice aroma therapy. Aroma therapy for me would be a perfect little cake happily baking itself in the oven and filling the house with vanilla…

Recommended recipesQuick Chocolate Mousse,  Rose Ice Cream,  Oatmeal Cookies,  Mango Custard,  Peach Party,  Ice Cream Apple Paradise

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.