Kitchen Must Have – Vanilla Paste

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Aaaahhhh……………vanilla. What’s better in baking then the rich, deep flavor of vanilla? It adds such amazing flavor to everything from candies to cakes to cookies, it’s an absolute staple in every kitchen the world over. Like most people, I use to always bake with vanilla extract but then I discovered vanilla paste and once I did, my whole world changed. Vanilla paste will take your baked goods to the next level, it’s THAT good!

Vanilla paste can be used in exactly the same way as extract only it has a richer, stronger flavor. It also imparts all of the appealing vanilla flecks into your baking so not only will your baked goods taste better, but they will look prettier too! Although called “paste” it really doesn’t have the consistency of paste at all, it’s more like a thick, rich maple syrup. Because vanilla paste is made from the scrapings of a vanilla pod and not alcohol, it won’t have the unpleasant flavor of extract if you taste it straight. Instead, it will taste rich and delicious.

I keep both vanilla extract and vanilla paste in my spice cabinet but I use them in different ways. For recipes where the vanilla flavor will be very pronounced (buttercream, custards, pound cake, puddings, sugar cookies, etc.) I will opt for the vanilla paste since the flavor is stronger. Plus, I love the flecking in baked goods that are very vanilla forward. On the flip side, when a recipe calls for vanilla but it’s not really the “star of the show”, I’ll use the vanilla extract instead. The nice thing is they can be used interchangeably and they measure out teaspoon for teaspoon. That being said, I have been known to double the vanilla paste in some recipes because when it comes to vanilla, you just can’t go wrong with adding a little more!

Vanilla paste is readily available in many stores, especially cooking stores such as Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma. A popular brand is Nielsen-Massey (pictured above) which is absolutely delicious and reasonably priced. You can also find vanilla paste online, my favorite site for all things vanilla is Beanilla . Their prices are fantastic and their products are wonderful, especially their Grade A vanilla beans which are so fresh, soft, and oily. Generally speaking, expect to pay a little more for the vanilla paste then you would for vanilla extract however, I think the extra cost is worth every penny.

I truly cannot recommend vanilla paste enough, it really is a “Kitchen Must Have” and it’s one of my most favorite ingredients. The next time you’re baking up a cake or a batch of sugar cookies, definitely give it a try. I am confident that once you try vanilla paste, your little bottle of extract will start to collect some dust in that spice cabinet!

**Tip** – When using vanilla extract always use “pure vanilla extract” and NOT “imitation vanilla extract”. Pure vanilla is made by extracting flavor from real vanilla beans using 35%+ alcohol. Pure vanilla should be dark and rich just like the beans it was extracted from. Imitation and “clear” vanilla extracts are made from artificial ingredients.

For more information on vanilla extract and to learn how to make your own, click here .

 

 

Cake Batter Sprinkle Cookies

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I was looking for a quick treat to make the kids and came across this recipe on Facebook from the “So Yummy” blog, they were called Four Way Cookie Sandwiches . Normally I like to make my baked goods all from scratch but I was a little intrigued by this recipe so I decided to give it a try. The cookies were very good, slightly crispy on the edge and nice and soft on the inside. They also had a really nice vanilla cake flavor and my kids loved all of the sprinkles throughout. These cookies were definitely a hit in our house, it’s a recipe I will make again if I need some quick, home baked cookies.

The original recipe calls for the cookies to be filled with frosting and then sandwiched together however, I decided to just make a basic batch of cookies and not fill them. I also added in a teaspoon of vanilla paste because everything is better with a little vanilla and I used a French Vanilla cake mix for even more vanilla flavor. The recipe calls for the cookies to be baked for 15 minutes but at that point my cookies were still raw in the middle so I let them go another 5 minutes, checking them at the halfway point. After 25 minutes the cookies were cooked through nicely but they never did brown. Had I left them in the oven any longer to achieve a golden brown color they would’ve most definitely turned out too dry and overdone. Be sure to keep an eye on the cookies towards the end of baking as oven times vary.

Next time I’ll try these cookies filled with frosting. If you want to sandwich them together don’t feel like you’re stuck just using a vanilla frosting. Try out chocolate, Nutella™, marshmallow creme, etc. The possibilities are endless! I would even try rolling the sandwiched cookies in crushed cookies, chocolate chips, or even broken up candy bar pieces! All would be a yummy choice and something a little different from just traditional sprinkles.

Ingredients

  • 1 box of vanilla cake mix
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup colored sprinkles
  • 1/2 cup pre-made vanilla frosting, optional 

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the eggs, oil, sprinkles and cake mix together. Stir until well combined. Using a cookie scoop, place cookies onto a Silpat™ lined cookie sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes and cool on wire racks.

If sandwiching the cookies together, frost one cookie and place another cookie on top. Gently roll the sides of the cookie in the topping of your choice. Enjoy!

So Yummy Blog – Four Way Cookie Video

 

“Shrewsbury Cakes” – aka Sugar Cookies

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Years and years ago back when I was in college, my husband (then boyfriend) took me to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg for a few days one summer. It was hotter than Hades the week we were there. I am talking stifling, sweltering, oppressive heat and humidity. Colonial Williamsburg was particularly torturous as there is very little shade, dust kicking up everywhere, and the smell of hot horse poop everywhere. Needless to say, I couldn’t have been more cranky that day. After a few hours I had enough so we decided to grab a snack, take a break, and relax. That is when I discovered not only the best ginger ale I ever tasted but also, “Shrewsbury Cakes”.

Shrewsbury Cakes are really nothing more than sugar cookies but with a slight citrus note to them. They are absolutely delicious and I was in love at first bite. I ended up going back to the “Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop” where we found them and buying a whole bunch more to take home with us. They were THAT good! I also came across a little cookbook as well which contained all kinds of colonial era baking recipes and as luck would have it, the Shrewsbury Cakes were in there. Score!!

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The below recipe is taken right from, “Recipes from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop” by The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. The only changes that I made to the recipe was to replace vanilla extract with vanilla paste and I decided to use vanilla sugar instead of plain granulated sugar. Other than that I followed the recipe as written, increasing the baking time by 8 minutes because I made larger sized cookies than what was called for. The recipe listed a yield of 36 cookies, I was able to get 24 cookies using my medium cookie scoop.

The cookies are light, slightly crisp on the edges, and absolute perfection. You will not be disappointed with this recipe. They would be a terrific addition to your Christmas cookie list, just use some red and green colored sugar to roll them in and you will make Santa Claus one happy little elf!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (or vanilla sugar)
  • 1 1/2 tsp grated orange peel (or 1/2 tsp dried orange peel)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (or vanilla paste)
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tbs milk or half and half
  • 2 cups sifted all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cream of tartar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter, shortening, and sugar.

Add the orange peel and vanilla extract.

Add the egg and milk.

Combine the sifted flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar then sift together. Slowly incorporate to the wet ingredients. Mix until well combined.

Scoop the cookies into 1″ balls and then roll them in sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until very light golden brown. (Remember to increase the baking time for larger sized cookies)

Cool the cookies on the pan for about 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Enjoy!

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