Sunday, January 6, 2008

Vanilla Bean, the Edible Orchid

Vanilla conjures up many things when mentioned. One may remember the rich vanilla taste in homemade vanilla ice cream on a summer day, a vanilla candle that gives off a warm and soft smell or a steamy hot vanilla mocha cappuccino. Either way you can't help but be enveloped by its sweet exotic lure.

Vanilla beans or pods are an edible fruit of an orchid, vanilla frafrans. Of the thousands of orchids, the vanilla plant is the only one that produces an edible fruit. A small, trumpet-like flower grows on a vine, when the flower opens it is hand-pollinated to produce the fruit, vanilla pods.

Once the fruit is matured to a green bean, the vanilla beans are harvested and cured. The curing process takes 3 to 6 months. Curing begins by wrapping the beans in blankets, then bundled in straw mats and heated for 24 to 48 hours. The beans are then laid out in the sun to cure, then wrapped back up and allowed to sweat overnight for several days. At this point the beans are dark, oily and pliable. A few more months of drying in the shade are needed to complete the curing process. During the curing process the beans develop their distinctive vanilla flavor.

Vanilla beans are well worth the extra effort to purchase. They keep very well in airtight containers ready to enhance many memorable sweet dishes and not so sweet dishes, like bread.

A few vanilla bean sources on line are :

Vanilla Bread
This bread taste best toasted. It has a light crunch and sweet vanilla aroma.

1 cup warm water
1 pkg dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
4 to 4 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

Mix water and yeast together in a large mixing bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add sugar, salt, vanilla, milk and 2 cups of flour. Beat for 3 minutes. Add remaining 2 cups of flour and beat until a soft dough forms. Place dough on a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes. Add flour as needed to keep dough from becoming sticky.

Place dough in a large greased bowl, cover and let rise for one hour.

Punch two holes in dough. Remove dough from bowl and shape into a loaf. Place dough in a greased loaf pan, (9x5x3) cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake in a preheated 350-degrees oven for 50 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Yield: one loaf

Vanilla Bean Extract
Homemade vanilla extract may take some time but in the long run it will be a great investment or wonderful gift.

5 vanilla beans
2 cups vodka, brandy or rum

Cut beans into 1-inch pieces. Place beans and vodka into a clean jar and cover tightly with lid. Store in a cool dark place for 6 weeks. Use as needed.

Yield: 2 cups

No comments: