One of the best parts of spending a week in Delaware with my parents was the chance to do some baking with my mum. My love of baking comes from her – the traditional cookies we made every Christmas, her amazing Seven Layer Bars (adapted in a Christmas recipe by me) and her omni-present chocolate chip cookies. So when I received a copy of Shauna Sever’s Pure Vanilla, I combed through it with my mother to find some great recipes to make over the holidays. We had a great time mixing things in the kitchen together and getting to experiment with cookbooks.
Pure Vanilla is a book highlighting recipes containing vanilla in various forms: vanilla beans, vanilla extract (in fact, it contains a recipe for homemade vanilla extract!) and vanilla bean paste. Sever’s idea behind the cookbook is simple: reclaiming the idea of vanilla as a bold, exciting flavour, rather than a bland “plain vanilla.” As a result, she’s tweaked several recipes in order to highlight the vanilla. It’s not just a dessert selection – there’s a great consideration of breakfasts, as well as custards, baked desserts and candies. It’s also educational: Sever writes about the various types of vanilla and explains the distinctions of types of vanilla, which I really enjoyed. I was disappointed at the lack of pictures in the cookbook, as I really would prefer there to be a photo for every recipe (at a minimum, as I’d really prefer there to be photos of the process.) But what I enjoyed was that, even if it wasn’t a strictly vanilla recipe, the vanilla really brought out the highlights in other flavours. A great example of that is the sea salt caramels that I made. I’ve always been a bit afraid of caramels, but I found this recipe to be really accessible. But as a warning, you WILL need a candy thermometer. Enjoy!
Sea Salt Caramels (adapted from Pure Vanilla)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 vanilla bean
6 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 teaspoons sea salt (make sure that it’s sea salt, rather than table salt – in this recipe, it really makes a difference)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
Heat the heavy cream and vanilla bean (still in pod) in a medium saucepan over low heat (make sure the saucepan is large enough for the liquid to expand), and steam the milk (turn the heat off before it reaches a boil).
Take cream off the heat and let it sit for fifteen minutes. Then place back on the heat and add in the sugars, unsalted butter, corn syrup and sea salt. Constantly mixing, dissolve the sugar and melt the butter. Heat the mixture until it reaches 117C on your candy thermometer.
Caramel can burn quite easily, so it’s very important to make sure that you’re stirring constantly. We tried out the automatic stirrer that my grandfather gave my mother for Christmas – it actually worked quite well, keeping the caramel at constant pressure: I wouldn’t recommend it for something heavy or for a saucepan with contents like vegetables, but it’s a great tool for candymaking.
Once the liquid reaches 177C, remove from the heat and pour into your lined baking pan. Sprinkle sea salt on top of the caramels.
Thanks to Quirk Books, I have an extra copy of this book to give away. The competition is open until midnight GMT, January 11th and is only open to residents of the UK and Ireland. To enter, simply leave a comment telling me your favourite recipe with vanilla. For an additional entry, you can like BakingBeardy on Facebook (or if you already like it, leave a comment letting me know.) Good luck!