This month’s grocery store find makes almost any sweet treat a little bit more delicious! Ground vanilla beans are exactly what they sound like. The entire pod has been ground to a fine powder ready to tuck into all sorts of goodies. The smell is out of this world (even though ground vanilla beans don’t have any added sugar or alcohol). If you are practicing paleo or low carb baking then this will be a grocery store find you’ll want to buy.
Vanilla is one of the most beautiful smells and flavors the human race has discovered. A pod from a beautiful orchid that has been steamed and dried to perfection is one of the world’s most expensive spices. The cost comes from the labor-intensive process of pollenating the vanilla flower—which only last about a day. This process is mostly done by hand to ensure success because the poor little bees can’t visit them all.
A big part of vanilla’s power is its ability to enhance other flavors. Chocolate may be the most desired sweet on the planet but without vanilla its flavor lacks complexity in the same way that a cake tastes dull if you don’t add salt to the batter. Cakes, pies, cookies and custards often depend on vanilla for their flavor. (Helpful tip: If you ever find yourself without vanilla you can use rum or cognac in its place).
When using powdered vanilla (vs. vanilla extract), there are a few differences you should be aware of. First off, it will change the color of anything you are making so don’t freak out when your cream cheese icing darkens slightly. (If you are making a dessert where the color change would affect its beauty or presentation, I probably wouldn’t use powdered vanilla). The powdered version also has an earthier flavor. If you’re not used to it, try testing it in a more delicate recipe (such as a custard) before serving anything you make with powdered vanilla to your guests. I also find that its best in recipes where it has to sit for a few minutes before cooking or baking. I use it in my pancake batter because it sits for 30 minutes before I make the cakes. It’s perfect for that. Just add it to the liquid in a recipe and let it sit at room temperature while you gather the other ingredients.
If you are one for mixing your own tea blends, you can add the powder to your bags for a hit of vanilla flavor. I imagine you could infuse alcohol with the powder in a tea bag for something interesting like vanilla rum for a vanilla coke cocktail (I haven’t tried this yet but I imagine more than a handful or bartenders has). You can also mix the powder with sugar to create real vanilla flavored sugar (as opposed to using the vanilla pod trick—which I find adds scent but very little flavor). You can even try my twist on the old standby snickerdoodles. Just roll the cookies in vanilla sugar before baking.
When making my vanillerdoodles, be sure to give the dough time to rest before baking. You can make the dough, chill it for 30 minutes and then make your cookie balls rolled in vanilla sugar. You should let them sit for 10 more minutes to let the vanilla flavor work its magic and then roll again in the sugar before baking. You will thank me later for these amazing cookies. For the record, these cookies keep well. Where most cookies are good for 3 or 4 days, my vanillerdoodles, when tightly covered, will last for weeks… that is, if you can keep your hand out of the cookie jar!
- 1 cup butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla flavoring
- 1/8 teaspoon almond flavoring
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons ground vanilla bean powder
- In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. I use a hand mixer for this.
- Add the eggs, vanilla and almond flavoring and mix well, about 1 minute.
- Add the flour, cream of tartar, salt and baking soda. Mix until well combined but do not over mix, about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Mix the 1/4 cup sugar with the ground vanilla beans and place in a bowl.
- Roll the cookie dough into 1 inch balls, roll in the vanilla sugar and place on a cookie sheet. (do not spray or butter the sheet pan).
- Let sit for 10 minutes on the counter. Then roll in the sugar again.
- Bake for 9 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned.
- Let sit for 2 or 3 minutes, then remove with a spatula to a cooling rack.