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I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet
I opened the bottle of your vanilla extract last weekend to bake some cookies and the difference in taste is extraordinary." – Judy

Desserts & Baking

Pumpkin Chiffon Cake

Pumpkin and vanilla were meant for each other. Ditto with all the spices in this incredibly light, moist, delicious cake. Really, what could say autumn better than a freshly baked pumpkin cake or pie — or latte, I might add? Over the years I’ve really come to appreciate really fresh spices. I grate my nutmeg and grind allspice and cinnamon in a coffee grinder dedicated just for spices. The flavors really pop when they’re fresh. And our dear vanilla is the backup chorus once again, making sure all the flavors work synergistically.

Gingerbread Houses and Christmas Candlelight Teas

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Maria Reisz has of way of creating magic and beauty, whether it’s her exquisite European baking, sumptuous parties and teas, her rose gardens, flower arranging, or just about anything else her talented hands touch. Now Maria has brought out her much awaited book, Gingerbread Houses and Christmas Candlelight Teas: How to Create Your Own Holiday Traditions. This lovely book is filled with detailed instructions and lovely photos on how to help children create their own delightful gingerbread houses and how to turn simple-to-prepare foods into a celebratory meal with family and friends.

Easy Artisan: Simple Elegant Recipes for the Everyday Cook

Over the last decade the market has been flooded with beautiful, big cookbooks filled with full-color, sexy photos of gorgeously presented foods and beverages. many of which contain exotic ingredients and complex instructions. I call them the “Wow!” cookbooks. It’s lots of fun to curl up in a chair, book-in-lap, to study the pictures and read the recipes

My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz

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When I’m exploring an unfamiliar cuisine or planning a trip, and even when I discover a new author, I immerse myself with information in order to better understand the context of the food, the place, the author. By doing this I develop a sense of connection – whatever it is I’m learning about, it’s no longer abstract.

Apricot Crumble – Tarte Crumble Aux Abricots

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Courtesy of David Lebovitz, My Paris Kitchen; Ten Speed Press; 2014

I grew up on apricots, both fresh and dried as well as apricot desserts. David had never had fresh apricots until he went to France, at which time he “got it” about how amazing they are when they’re baked. If you haven’t used fresh apricots in desserts, you’re in for a wonderful treat!

Gianduja — Homemade Nutella

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The first time I had Nutella was in a very unlikely place — on the island of Tahiti! Tahiti, being a French Protectorate, means that all kinds of delicious European treats are readily available in markets except on some of the smaller islands. Also, fresh baguettes are delivered several times a day to even lowly gas station convenience stores! It was crazy wonderful.

At any rate, I was staying at a pension where they provided natural alarm clocks for everyone in the form of a band of semi-wild chickens. Fortunately, they also served breakfast, which included the aforementioned baguettes along with a variety of jams and Nutella.

Chestnut Jam Tart

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Excerpted from Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.

Chestnut Jam Tart
Makes 10 servings

Alice says, “A jam tart seems like a relaxed, simpler-to-make linzer torte, with an Italian accent instead of a German one. A jam tart is called fregolata in Italian, and it’s pretty and festive and giftable, too. I thought it fitting (and extra delicious) to swap the usual shortbread crust for a chestnut crust. The dough is quick to make by hand and is then pressed flat into a tart pan with no worries about the sides since the dough forms its own edge as it bakes. Any jam will do for the topping, but the prettiest and most flavorful are red fruits like cherry, plum, raspberry, blackberry, or even strawberry. The jam is topped with crumbled bits of dough and sliced almonds and pushed into the oven to do its own thing.”

Book Review: Flavor Flours

 

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Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch

Whenever I need inspiration for a special dessert or a good cookie recipe, I reach for one of Alice Medrich’s books. When Flavor Flours came out I was excited to review it, but I had no idea how much I wanted and needed this book until I recently received a copy.

Alice Medrich is truly a culinary visionary and trend setter. As a young woman she lived in Paris and was given some chocolate truffles. Intrigued by the flavor and uniqueness of the confection, which was essentially unknown in the US at that time, she returned to Berkeley, California and made truffles for sale. The truffles she designed became known as “California Truffles.”

Oat Flour Fruit Basket Cake

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 Excerpted from Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.

Alice says, “Too simple for words: soft, tender layers of oat flour génoise are filled with preserves, whipped cream, and fresh berries. Team strawberry preserves with fresh strawberries, or pair them with apricot or peach preserves instead. In winter, swap the berries for diced bananas. It will be hard not to eat leftovers for breakfast—but there’s nothing wrong with oats and fruit for breakfast.”

Oat Flour Sponge Cake

Excerpted from Flavor Flours by Alice Medrich (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.

Oat Flour Sponge Cake
Serves 8 to 10

Alice says, “Oat flour turns a plain-Jane sponge cake into something elegant with the subtle but distinct flavors of butterscotch or toffee. The crusty edges I picked off my first oat flour sponge cake were delicious with my coffee.”

Chocolate Oblivion Tart

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 Long before the California food revolution began, my mother was given one of these dazzling tarts as a gift. It was a predecessor of the exceptional chocolate desserts that emerged in the 1980s. We were impressed by the simplicity of ingredients and the deep, rich, creaminess of the tart.

At some point in the 1990s, the recipe was featured in Gourmet magazine, complete with raspberry coulis and a glaze, both of which are optional. It became a regular in my repertoire for special events, and when I launched my online business I featured it in my chocolate section.

The Baking Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

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 Whether you are a seasoned home baker, a beginner or a professional, when a new book by Rose Levy Beranbaum comes out, pay attention! Rose is the undisputed Diva of Desserts, with ten exceptional books on baking, and a very popular blog, Real Baking with Rose. 

Her newest book, The Baking Bible, shines a welcoming beam of light on the best in the world of baking: Bread, cakes, pies, tarts, pastries, and confections.

Rose is known throughout the culinary industry for her meticulous attention to detail, her extensive research and testing of ingredients, and her precise instructions for each recipe she creates. She has raised the bar by encouraging home bakers to measure ingredients carefully by weighing them. She lists both the US standard system of ounces and pounds, and the International metric system, the preferred standard of most professional bakers, in each of her recipes, and she tests her recipes extensively so you don’t have to. Followed properly, her recipes are a no-fail proposition. This alone is reason for a standing ovation!

Top Ten Foolproof Baking Tips from Rose

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Rose Levy Beranbaum is the undisputed Diva of Desserts. In her latest book, The Baking Bible, Rose shares her experience and expertise on baking, including The Golden Rules of Cake Baking. Here are her Top Ten Foolproof Baking Tips from Rose. There are many reason why I recommend The Baking Bible, but all of the tips and advice she offers are reason enough if you are a serious baker.

Vanilla: Cooking with one of the World’s Finest Ingredients

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My friend Janet Sawyer is an exceptional woman who magically makes a 24-hour day stretch exponentially. She claims she has always been project-oriented, but my assessment is that she’s in love with the world and embraces ideas and opportunities that speak to her as remarkable and warrant further consideration. Once she commits to something new, she’s in 110%!! Having just spent three weeks with Janet in England, I have experienced firsthand her joie de vivre and how nothing pleases her more than an exciting challenge.

Grismelli – Vanilla Scented Cornmeal Cookies

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Years ago Earl Darny was the pastry chef at Bay Wolf Restaurant in Oakland, one of my favorites in an area filled with amazing restaurants. Earl gave me this recipe saying, “This is one of my favorite cookies.” He later went on to open his own bakery.

I finally made them for the first time this afternoon; they’re fairly addictive.

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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