How to tell a good vanilla bean
How to tell a good vanilla bean…
Getting quality vanilla can be long and expensive process. It took me a year of trying different suppliers, preparations, and origins before deciding on the Tahitian vanilla I use now for my classic vanilla ice cream recipe.
When looking for quality in a vanilla bean there are few things to check. Firstly the smell should be strong and perfumed. This shows the bean is nice and fresh and hasn’t dried out due to being picked a long time ago. On that point, the feel is also important. It should feel soft and flexible, if you bend it back on it’s self it shouldn’t snap.
The look is also a good tell, you want it shiny but not wet or moist. The colour should be even and without any tears or spots.
With vanilla from Madagascar always check you are getting Bourbon vanilla. This label was introduced in the 1960’s to refer to vanilla produced in the Indian ocean area rather than other parts of the world. It also indicates that they have been prepared in the traditional way.
Tahitian vanilla makes up less than 10% of world supply and is like gold dust in a pastry kitchen. The juicy flavourful beans are what I use for my vanilla ice creams. They are very expensive though so it’s not always practical.
Using vanilla in recipes
To infuse vanilla into recipes you can use hot or cold infusions.
The only difference is the time taken to impart the flavour, the colder the mix the longer it takes to infuse. The amount of flavour achieved from both is pretty much the same.
For cold infusions which is mixes where you add the vanilla cold and store in the fridge would take around 24 hours, however heating the mixture to around 80c would reduce that time to about 30 minutes. There is debate that cold infusions create a better flavour and that the vanilla is more intense, however I tend to use hot infusion and then rest my mixes in the fridge overnight before passing to cover all the bases.
If you have lots of used pods the best thing to do to make sure you get the most out of the vanilla is dry the pods in a warm oven or dehydrator. They will be very brittle and should snap easily when ready. You then blitz these to a powder and pass through a conical strainer, removing any big pieces. Add this to caster sugar to get an intense vanilla flavoured sugar for your recipes without having to open new pods.
For high levels of flavour, you can also use the infusion method but then blitz the whole pods into the mix before passing. Beware that this will darken the colour of the mix significantly.