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

Double Vanilla Creme Anglaise

Recently I made Creme Anglaise  to go with David Lebovitz’s recipe for Apricot Souffles. Normally I use heavy cream (double cream) to accompany a rich dessert or I whip the cream and flavor it with vanilla, but I rarely think Creme Anglaise. However, when I made it for the souffles it was like re-connecting with an old friend. I realized how perfect it is on so many things — fresh or dried fruit compotes, slices of warm cake or pie, fresh berries, even adding its creamy deliciousness over French Toast. In England it is nearly always offered with with “puddings,” which really means what we Americans call cakes, and David Lebovitz uses it to accompany not only the light Apricot Souffle but also with his dense, rich Chocolate Souffle. 

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Double Pecan Thumbprint Cookies

 

When it’s cold or stormy outside, it’s so nice to have a warm beverage and a few freshly baked cookies to enjoy while hunkering down and binging on Netflix or reading a book. Frankly, both Gina (our Contessa) and I enjoy having freshly baked cookies on hand whenever we’re in for a long stretch of work on the computer. It’s a nice incentive to keep going. So when I found this recipe for Double Pecan Thumbprint Cookies in the holiday issue of Bon Appetit, I knew it would be our new favorite.  I made a batch for Gina’s birthday in November, sending her over-the-moon.

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Moroccan Lamb Tajine

As a big fan of Mediterranean food, I’m always excited when I find a new recipe or see a recipe that I can tweak to taste. I found the original version of this Moroccan Lamb Tajine in the New York Times but have I have adapted it considerably. I have to say that it has become a signature dish to serve for friends who love lamb.

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Sticky Toffee Pudding

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During my time in Devon, England, one of my goals was to try Sticky Toffee

Pudding. For those of you unaware of English vernacular, “pudding” is used interchangeably with “dessert” and includes cakes, and other baked goods. To add to the confusion, puddings can also be savory, such as Yorkshire Pudding, which is served with roast beef. So Sticky Toffee Pudding is actually a cake that can be baked or steamed and is smothered in a caramel-like sauce.

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Buche de Noel

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Although the French name for this beautiful dessert means Christmas Log, the origins of the custom of bringing in a Yule log, building a blazing fire, then lighting candles from it are pagan in origin as is the Christmas tree and decorating with holly and other greens.  I like to think of these ancient traditions as a way to bring light and joy into the dark nights of winter for everyone, regardless of our ancestry or religion. And what could be prettier than a chocolate sponge cake filled with cream, frosted with chocolate ganache and dusted with snowy powdered sugar? Add some meringue mushrooms or sprigs of holly, and you have a lovely and meaningful completion of a holiday meal. 

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Almond Rum Cake

This delicate Rum Almond Cake was conceived as a coffee cake  but it deserves to be elevated to a much higher status if for no other reason than it’s too boozy for a 10:00 am coffee break! As you can see from the photo, it was the ideal New Year’s Eve cake — moist, flavorful and rich enough that a small slice was sufficient.

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Savory Cheese Cookies

When I attend parties, especially in the autumn and winter, I’m always drawn to the fresh from the oven appetizers. You too? Sure, the cheese, fruits and nuts platter is a draw and the dessert platter is a must-check, but the multi-sensory appeal of something meltingly warm, especially when it’s chilly, is always welcome. I can assure you, these divine  Savory Cheese Cookies will be a hit!

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Russian Tea Cakes

Whenever I think about holiday baking, Russian Tea Cakes (aka Mexican Wedding Cookies) are at the forefront of my mind. What’s not to love about the buttery, crumbly deliciousness of these cookies. with their fragrant toasted nuts and powdered sugar spilling everywhere? Okay, the powdered sugar part can be annoying. What I do love about these cookies is that they’re pretty much popular worldwide with essentially the same ingredients though some come with a few special touches.

I recently found a unique version of these cookies in Sunset Magazine. Created by Yigit Pura of “Tout Sweet Patisserie,” they are noted for their extreme crispness and toasty-brown butter flavor. I also like that they’re made with vanilla bean paste. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon cognac or brandy. Prefer a different alcohol or want to substitute a liqueur? Why not? And, if you don’t want alcohol, you can substitute milk.

Yigit suggests creating cookies 1-1/2 tablespoons each. I personally prefer these cookies smaller because the powdered sugar can be overwhelming with big cookies. Just like the alcohol used, you get to decide on the size you’d like to make the cookies. Just remember to adjust the bake time accordingly.

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Luscious Gianduja Squares

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 Carole Bloom has graciously shared a toothsome recipe from her new book, Intensely Chocolate (Wiley, 2010), which not only is delicious, but is also an ideal gift to make for a chocolate lover.  Carole says, “A blend of bittersweet chocolate, dark milk chocolate, hazelnut paste, and chopped toasted hazelnuts create a candy that fills the mouth with intense flavor. These go very well with coffee or tea after dinner.”

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Chocolate and Beet Fudge Cake

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 Courtesy of Janet Sawyer, Little Pod, UK

Chocolate and Beet Fudge Cake may sound off-putting but, in fact, the beets provide moisture, sweetness and some heft to the cake but the cake doesn’t taste at all like beets. Chocolate wins the honors here, so you want to use good quality chocolate when making this rich cake. It’s truly a delicious recipe that Janet served for the first anniversary party for Little Pod, our “sister” vanilla company, which was held at the Chelsea Physic Gardens in London.

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Vanilla Scented Delicata Squash and Asian Pear Salad

I love to peruse the farmers market each week to see what’s just come in and stock up when it’s last call on something I don’t want to leave. Late summer and early autumn are an especially interesting time. A wealth of squashes and tomatoes, pears and apples are demanding attention but there are also late peaches, plums and berries that will soon be gone. What are we supposed to do; buy it all? When I went last week, I’d been thinking about what a squash salad would look like. Butternut always comes to mind, but I wanted something different. Standing in front of the Delicata squashes, my mind said, YES. Then a vendor gifted me two Asian pears. Perfect combination. And then I thought radicchio. The combination of colors, and the slight bitterness of the radicchio would complement the sweet squash and pears. Welcome Vanilla Scented Delicata Squash and Asian Pear Salad!

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Japanese Soba Noodle and Vegetable Salad

Cha-Ya is an exceptional vegetarian Japanese restaurant in San Francisco that I love to visit when I’m in the city.  The problem is I rarely get to San Francisco, so I’ve re-created some of their recipes to enjoy at home. Japanese Soba Noodle and Vegetable Salad is bright, fresh, filling and delicious. It also bridges the seasons well. I especially enjoy it in the spring when asparagus and fava beans are coming in, or in the autumn when nights are cooler and I want something more hearty than a greens-based salad. Use whatever vegetables you like based on the season and availability.

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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 Chiffon Cake, a Pumpkin Pie or Pumpkin Spice Latte? 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.

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Rum and Vanilla Poached Peaches

After a summer filled with luscious stone fruits, every kind of berry imaginable, and even beverages, ice creams and sorbets made with summer fruits, you’d think I’d be ready to embrace the autumn harvest filled with pears, apples, persimmons and more. I love autumn fruits and squash and heritage tomatoes. But I don’t want to let go of the peaches and berries until the last possible minute. Fortunately, there’s the Autumn Flame peach to help  ease the pain. They’re a late, freestone peach bred to carry us through September and into early October. They’re a semi-firm, sweet peach with low acidity but enough character and body to use in fruit salads, for eating out-of-hand, for baking and for canning or freezing.  Autumn Flames have a dark, rich blush, are easy to use as they’re freestone and they hold their shape when cooked. My lead-in to Rum and Vanilla Poached Peaches!

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Couscous or Millet Salad with Apples, Cranberries and Smoked Turkey

This is a salad with autumn and winter written all over it. As the days grow shorter and the weather turns colder this salad has the heft to fill you up as a main dish and it doesn’t require lettuce unless you want it to. You can make it ahead of time and serve it chilled or room temperature or make and eat it when it’s slightly warm.  Add a cup of soup and dinner is solved. It travels well and doesn’t wilt — perfect for work or a potluck. You can use leftover Thanksgiving turkey, instead of smoked turkey, or use some of each as the smoked turkey flavor makes the salad pop. It keeps well in the fridge and the Honey Mustard Dressing is addictive. Couscous takes just minutes to cook, you can shell the pistachios while watching Netflix and throw the last ingredients together in 15 minutes.

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

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