The UnProfessional Chef

A girl's commentary on food, cooking and all things delicious!

Location: Singapore

A closet food critic and wannabe chef who loves the art of cooking and enjoying great cuisine in the company of great friends!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Rant about Sugar (and other cake ingredients)

Madagascar Bournob Pure Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Bean Paste

In case you are confused by the juxtaposition of the title of this post against the photo, I should clarify that this post was intended to be one that extolled the joys of vanilla. I had brought home two vanilla pods from Borough Market in London (very well-travelled pods they were, coming originally from Papua New Guinea) from my recent trip and purchased a bottle each of (very expensive but worth it) Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Bean Paste from Shermay's Cooking School and was looking forward with great excitement at baking with these for the first time (yes, up till now I have never split a vanilla pod and have been using the awful artificial vanilla extract available in all supermarkets near you). This momentous occasion called for a very special recipe that possessed a quintessential ‘vanilla-ness’ to its entire whole. I thought I had hit jackpot with Vanilla Bean Loaves from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking with Mr Latte.

Vanilla Bean Loaves

It promised so much with the liberal appearance of vanilla in the sugar to be used, in the number of vanilla beans to be used in the batter and the syrup, and the extra dose of vanilla extract (one whole tablespoon full!) in the batter. During the baking process, the aroma from the vanilla and the fabulous melding of butter, sugar and eggs filled my little kitchen, causing me to salivate greedily in anticipation of the two beautifully rising and browning loaves. Even the way they looked when they came out of the oven promised lovely rustic cakes impregnated with the gorgeously unique flavour of real vanilla.

But the sugar, why, the sugar! Actually, to that I should add, the eggs, why so many eggs? I should have been awfully suspicious while heaping copious amounts of sugar into the bowl during the process of creaming the butter and cracking egg after egg after egg into the mixture. I know this was a double recipe and indeed, I was rewarded with a substantial amount of cake, but eight eggs for two small loaf cakes? Five hundred grams of sugar? I am a stickler for following recipe amounts as closely as possible but this experience has taught me a lesson about adapting recipes to my own tastebuds. I love sweet rich things, but perhaps I should have been more careful with American dessert recipes which tend to be on the ultra sweet side. These cakes, despite the lovely scent of vanilla prevalent in every bite were simply too sweet for me, though they were certainly edible. On top of the cake base itself, which was where the aforesaid 500 g of sugar went into, the recipe called for an additional layer of sugar syrup topping flavoured with vanilla. It was so sweet my teeth ached. However, it is worth noting that Mr UnProfessional Chef did not find it too sweet and indeed, after one or two days, the sweetness of the sugar mellowed somewhat to render the cake much more palatable, allowing the vanilla-ness to come out much more beautifully.

So, word of warning if you would ever like to use this recipe – cut down on the sugar, a lot. I would even say it would benefit from a slight reduction in the amount of eggs and butter since the cake was super rich and moist. But if you have an extremely sweet tooth and love very rich cakes, then don’t make any changes. My only consolation is that the vanilla bean pods, genuine paste and essence, were wonderfully aromatic and proved the best reason to avoid artificial vanilla essence in future.


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