Anyone who thinks vanilla is boring, should read this column that appeared in the Guardian (U.K.) last week (I heard about this article from Sprinklefingers).
The author, Oliver Thring rightly concludes that if you say that vanilla is boring, you probably haven’t tasted the real thing.
The real thing is a long, slender, pliable brown pod filled with teeny seeds. It has a bright, distinctive taste, but it never tramples your taste buds. Split the pod and plop it, or part of it, into custard and taste how it transforms the flavor into something sweet and floral but subtle. Use it for ice cream or to flavor a canister full of sugar. Use real vanilla in cake batter. Or to infuse vinegar, rum or vodka.
I could go on and on. I’ve always loved vanilla, even back in the old days when my cousin Leslie told me that the little specks in the ice cream I was eating were dirt.
She always chose chocolate.
But as any vanilla aficionado knows, anything made with chocolate is nowhere unless it contains some vanilla to give it a boost. Hot chocolate, for example — make it without a bit of vanilla and you’ll notice it’s missing. Ditto brownies and chocolate cake.
For those who know the truth — and those who want to understand what the vanilla thing is all about — try this recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream.
Vanilla Ice Cream
2 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
one vanilla bean, split open
2 1-inch strips lemon peel
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
Place the milk, cream, vanilla bean and lemon peel in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat until the liquid is hot and bubbles have formed around the sides of the pan. Set aside to cool. Beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together with an electric mixer set at medium speed until the mixture is thick and pale (4-5 minutes). Gradually add the milk mixture to the egg mixture, stirring to blend ingredients to a uniform color. Remove the vanilla bean (you can wipe it off and use it to flavor sugar, vinegar, rum or vodka). Heat the mixture, stirring frequently, until it has thickened, but do not let the mixture come to a boil. Let the mixture cool, then freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes 1-quart+