Which kind of vanilla to use in your recipe

Vanilla is one of those things I take very seriously.
I think I’m a little bit obsessed about it but that’s ok. I used to think about it as a very bland and a bit too safe flavour, something you give to a fussy eater but since a couple of years, I’ve been experimenting a lot and realised that it’s maybe a simple flavour that everybody knows but it can be a very complex one too.

Over the last few months, I’ve been experimenting with it more and more with different recipes and combinations with other flavours. I’m going to tell you what are the big differences between all the commercial forms of vanilla and what I think is the best for your usual recipes.

Vanilla extract

extract

It’s probably the most used form of vanilla in the UK and US. It’s mainly made from alcohol (so you can’t buy it if you’re under the legal age, I know, vanilla extract binge drinking…). I find that even the really good quality ones still tastes fake. I almost never use it but I think the best way to cook with it is to bake it in cookies, combined with other flavours like chocolate and brown sugar.

Vanilla paste

paste

This is the strongest form I’ve used so far. It’s highly concentrated and still has vanilla bean inside. The taste is quite similar to the vanilla extract but tastes a little bit more real. It’s great in cakes. I would use it with care as it can overpower other flavours.

Vanilla powder

powder

This is the form I use the most in my everyday cooking. It’s strong but not as much as the vanilla paste. It’s basically vanilla pods that have been grinded so it’s a mix of seeds and bits of vanilla pod. I put it almost everywhere.
It’s very good value as well, one little pot will last you ages.

Vanilla sugar

sugar

I make my own vanilla sugar with leftover pods that are already scraped, you only need to put them in a container with ordinary sugar. The vanilla will infuse the sugar and the leftover seeds you couldn’t srape properly are going to give loads of flavour too. It’s great sprinkled on pancakes or with my pain perdu recipe. You can use it to bake as well, it just doesn’t have the strength to stand out amongst other flavours.

Vanilla pod

vanilla

I kept the best for last. It is definetly the best form of vanilla to use. If you want a clean vanilla flavour, this is the one to use.
I don’t even combine it with another flavour, I love to put it in custard, ice cream, rice pudding… Something that will really show off the flavour.
I know it’s a luxury as it’s quite pricey but it’s 100% worth it. And don’t forget to make vanilla sugar with your leftovers.

Mylène

A really good vanilla custard

In France, we call runny custard “creme anglaise” (English cream) and I really understood why in the first year I lived here. You eat A LOT of it! You seem to have it with or in most puddings.
In France, most puddings and desserts are served as they are, no cream or custard required. There are some things like chocolate brownies or a very chocolatey and rich cake with which we do serve custard but it has to be very cold and is usually quite runny.
And then we have the creme patissière, a thick custard.

The other thing that surprises me is that everybody (I mean most people) use shop bought custard.
I think that english people have a very different approach to shop bought stuff. You would never think about serving a shop bought custard in France, some guests would be quite insulted if you didn’t make your own.

custard_mix

Home-made custard is simple and 100 times better.

If you make your own, I assure you, the people you are cooking for will know and will appreciate the fact that you spent the 5-10 extra minutes to make it from scratch (tip for come-dine-with-me contestants). For me, the 2 things you need for a very quick and quality custard are corn flour and vanilla – you can use any sort of vanilla (extract, pod, paste…) but I highly recommend a vanilla pod or the vanilla powder.

I love vanilla powder so much. I use it everywhere. I can’t bare the extract anymore. You can find vanilla powder in good supermarkets and it’s fairly cheap for the quantity and quality you get.

I’m sure you already know the recipe but I’ll put it anyway!

For 800g of vanilla custard, you’ll need:

– 500ml of milk
– 5 egg yolks
– 100g of sugar
– 10g of cornflour (optional, it’s just much quicker)
– Vanilla

Heat the milk and vanilla together.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and cornflour until fluffy and light yellow.

When the milk is boiling, add a little of it, a bit at a time, to the egg mixture without stopping whisking.

Bring it back to the hob and put on a medium heat. Stir constantly for about 5 minutes or until it reaches the constistency you’re looking for.

It will get thicker when it cools.

If your custard is lumpy, whisk it and if the lumps are still there, you can seive it.
You can adjust the quantity of cornflour you need. If you want it thicker, put more of it or if you like it thinner, put less.

If you want a stiffer custard, for a trifle or a vanilla slice, you need more cornflour (about 40g).

Mylène

Honey-roasted nuts

I love honey roasted nuts, I discovered them in the uk and it was love at first bite. The thing is that I like them quite sweet, nicely coated in honey.

Supermarkets offer some very expensive and very salty ones, with absolutely no taste of honey at all. I prefer the ones you find on mediterranean stalls but they’re incredibly expensive.

I found a few recipes, they were all similar but different in the same time. I found one that combined maple syrup and honey… Heaven.
Anyway, I got all the ingredients ready and started. I followed the recipe but just added a little more honey. I found the roasting time a bit short so made it a little longer.

The result was really great, you get golden brown nuts with a deep honey flavour but there are two things I wasn’t too happy with: the first is that the nuts stuck quite a lot to each other so I had to take them apart while they were still warm, one by one. The other thing is just my personal taste, I would have liked a bit more coating, I really like them very sweet. Everybody else thought they were just right.

nuts

You’ll need:

– 450g of nuts of your choice (I used almonds and cashews)
– 3 tbsp of honey
– 1 tbsp of maple syrup
– 30g of butter
– vanilla powder or extract, to your taste
– 1 pinch of cinnamon
– 2 tbsp of sugar

Heat the honey, syrup, butter, vanilla and cinnamon in a pan until all melted.

Lay aluminium foil on a roasting tray, transfer the nuts and syrup onto it. Make sure you coat all the nuts with the syrup.

Put the tray in the oven (180C) for 6 min.

Take the tray out and mix all the nuts, making sure they all get another layer of hot syrup on them.

Put the tray back in the oven for 6min.

If you’re happy with the look of your nuts at this stage, you can decide to take them out now or give them a stir and put them back in for a further 6min.

The nuts should be golden brown and the syrup not too runny.

Toss them in sugar while hot and eat cold.

Mylène

White chocolate & vanilla panna cotta with honey roasted figs

For the chocolate week, I have to make something with white chocolate. As I’ve never made panna cotta, I thought it would be nice to try it.

But there was a little problem: it’s usually made with pork or beef gelatine, and I’m a vegetarian.

But that didn’t stop me. I’m too aware of veggie setting agents to let it go like that!!

So I looked in my cupboard to try and find that veggie powder gelatine I bought a couple of months ago.

I followed a recipe found on-line and replaced the gelatine with my vegetarian powder.
I wasn’t that happy with the texture of it, I think I’ve put too much setting agent so it wasn’t wobbly enough to my liking but the taste was really good.
I think the setting agent I used was very strong so I recommend to use half of what it says on the packet.

For 4 pots, you’ll need:

– 500ml of cream
– 150ml of milk
– 100g of white chocolate, chopped
– 60g of sugar
– 1 vanilla pod, scrapped
– 1 tsp of veggie setting agent, or 4 gelatine leaves, soaked

Heat the cream, milk and vanilla together.

When it’s almost boiling, remove from the heat, add all the other ingredients and stir well until everything is well melted.

Pour into individual ramequins and leave it to set for 4 hours.

panna cotta skin with vanilla seeds

You’ll also need:

– 4 figs
– 1 tbsp of honey

Before serving, roast the whole figs in the honey for 5min in a hot oven (200°C).

Take the panna cotta out of their ramequins by running a thin knife around it or run some hot water on the ramequin to make it come out.

Serve the panna cotta with one roasted fig next to it and drizzle with the ‘honey and fig syrup’.

Mylene

Chocolat chaud Parisien

I really enjoy a good hot chocolate in the evening, when it’s cold and rainy outside.
I usually do my own, with real chocolate but I’ve never tried the really thick rich hot chocolate you see in Paris or in the film ‘le chocolat’.

I was dying to try it so I looked online for some inspiration.
A lot of the recipes I saw were made with cornflour to thicken it up but I thought it was cheating a bit so tried another one.
It needs only 3 ingredients and it’s dead simple.

You can choose the thickness of your hot chocolate by just cooking it for longer.

If you have never tried the real thing, you should do it tonight!!
It’s so rich that I couldn’t finish my cup but do not worry, it’s not fattening at all, it’s just very chocolatey.

For 2 large mugfulls, you’ll need:

– 550ml of wholemilk
– 150g of very good quality chocolate (I don’t like it too strong so I made it 80% dark and 20% milk chocolate)
– half of a vanilla pod, scraped
– 1 dessertspoon of sugar (only if you want to)

Boil the milk with the scraped vanilla pod. Leave it for 10min to infuse.

Take the pod out and whisk the chocolate in until melted.
At this stage, you can choose to serve it as it is but it will be a very thin hot chocolate.

Put it back on the hob, medium heat, and whisk constantly until you get the consistency you want – It can take 5 to 20min.

Serve it as you like, with whipped cream or not.

I personally love it as it is.

Enjoy

Mylene

Eclairs au chocolat

As this week is national chocolate week, I’ve decided to post one of my favourite chocolate recipes everyday.

Today is Chocolate eclairs, or éclairs au chocolat.

If by that name, you imagine a long choux pastry filled with whipped cream and topped with chocolate icing, let me tell you, you’re making a big mistake!
The real french éclair is filled with crème pâtissière, flavoured with chocolate, coffee, vanilla… It gives that french touch you’ll never get with cream, so forget about the whipped cream, really.

In my family, we’ve never been great choux pastry lovers. My mum never used to make it so I suppose it’s why I don’t make it very often.

My first attempts weren’t quite right so I decided to try again until I got it perfect. All the recipes I tried didn’t live up to my expectations, so in the end I made a mix of two recipes and it worked perfectly.
In fact it worked so well we are going to sell them locally.

See the product page here

For the filling, I used my favourite crème pâtissière recipe, just with chocolate in.
For the icing, I found a couple of recipes but chose the one I thought would be the most like the one they use in French boulangeries.

Anyway, enough of the talking, here’s the recipe.

For 6 éclairs, you’ll need:

For the filling:

– 2 egg yolks
– 10g of cornflour
– 100g of sugar
– half a liter of milk
– 70g of chocolate, chopped

For the choux pastry:

– 2 eggs,beaten
– 70g of flour
– 60ml of water
– 65ml of milk
– 55g of butter
– 5g of sugar

For the icing:

– 50g of chocolate
– 20g of butter
– 40g of icing sugar
– 1,5 tbsp of water

The filling

Make the filling at least 2 hours before making the pastry.

Boil the milk, meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks, cornflour and sugar together until nearly white.

Carefully pour the milk, a bit at a time, onto the mixture, whisking constantly.
Put the whole thing back on the hob at a low temperature and stir for 2min or until it has thick texture
Put it aside and sprinkle with the chopped chocolate.
Leave it a minute and stir the chocolate, until totally melted.
Leave to cool in the fridge.

The pastry:

Preheat the oven to 200°C.

Boil the butter, milk, water and sugar together. Then take the pan off of the hob and stir in the flour.

Put it back on the hob to dry it out, you’ll get a ball of paste.
Take it off the hob again and whisk in a bit of the beaten egg with an electric whisk.
Then add the rest of the eggs a bit at a time. You should get a smooth glossy mixture, not too runny.

Pipe that mixture onto a baking tray, lined with baking paper. Pipe long lines of it.

Put it in the oven to bake for 10 minutes, then turn the oven up to 220°C and bake for a further 10 minutes.
Take your long choux out of the oven and leave until totally cool.
With a very thin knife, cut into the choux, make a big enough cut for the nozzle of your piping bag to fit in. Fill each one with the chilled crème pâtissière.

The icing

Start the icing by melting the chocolate. When it’s melted, add the butter and icing sugar, your pan still on the hob.
Stir until the butter is totally melted. Put it aside and stir in the water a little at a time.

Wait five minutes and then you can ice your éclairs.

Keep them in the fridge.

Enjoy!

Mylène

Praliné

It’s been a quite exciting last few weeks; we’ve done summer fairs, created new biscuit designs, got a new toy (an air gun to give an edge to my biscuits and macarons), worked a couple of days in a deli (St Giles cheese), been approached by companies to sell our stuff…
Everything is going very well!

I didn’t have much time to try new recipes to share with you but I have that old classic that I’m going to write about: praliné!

It’s something very versatile that I use in a lot of things. It gives a nutty, caramel and vanilla flavour.
I use it in macarons with buttercream, home made chocolates, in ice-creams, chocolate spreads, flavoured crème brûlée, cakes, muffins… It can basically be used in any sweet thing.

It’s very easy to make, the main difficulty is in the grinding as lots of food processors can’t make it right. If you’ve got a fairly new one that can resist ice cubes, it would work fine. If you’ve got a coffee grinder, it’s even better, you just have to make sure you can wash it under the tap afterwards otherwise you’ll hate me forever for that recipe.

For 500g of praliné, you’ll need:

– 250g of sugar
– 250g of roasted hazelnuts (or almonds)
– 1 vanilla pod, scratched

Heat the sugar and vanilla seeds in a pan on their own until it melts and becomes golden.

Never stir the sugar, especially when it’s just starting to melts, you will ruin the caramel.

When you have your caramel, take it off the heat and mix the nuts in.

When they’re all covered in caramel, pour the mixture onto a tray layed with baking paper.
Let it cool down for 2 hours or until cool.

Break the nutty caramel in medium pieces by chopping it. Put everything in your food processor or grinder and grind until it makes a paste or, even better, a liquid mixture.

That step will take you a while, depending on how powerful and tough your equipment is.
Your praliné should now be ready to use! It will keep a while in a jar in the fridge or in the freezer, just take it out when needed and mix the desired amount into your preparations….

Mylene

French butter cream that will change your life…

I’ve never been a great fan of butter cream; I thought it was heavy and much too buttery and fatty. I came to England and noticed that the british style butter cream was basically sweet butter mix.

I didn’t like butter cream until I tried a recipe seen in one of my supergreat book. I promise you, It will change your birthday cakes into something really amazing.
The texture is light, fluffy, and you have a really delicate taste of butter… Heaven!

For a dose of butter cream, you’ll need:

– 3 egg yolks

– 75g of sugar

– 30ml of water

– 150g of soft butter

– A vanilla pod, or any flavor you want to give (melted chocolate, raspberry coulis,…)

Heat the sugar and water together, leave it to boil for about 3 min, my original recipe says 5 min but if you overdo it, the sugar is going to ruin your mix, so it’s better to underdo it a tiny bit.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks until they’re nearly white.

When the sugar’s ready, pour it slowly on the egg yolks, still whisking. Keep whisking until the mixture cools down. Put the soft butter in the mixture and whisk until you end up with a lovely buttery texture.

Add your flavor and mix!

It takes a tiny bit more time than British butter cream but it is totally worth it. My sister always hated butter cream until she tried mine so trust me and try that wonderful recipe as soon as you can.
I’m maybe a bit too passionate about it but if you want to change your (baking) life, French butter cream will do it for sure!!!!!!!

Mylene

Iles flottantes

The other day, I got given a vanilla pod by the owners of St Giles Cheese in Northampton. They wanted me to try their new arrival of vanilla pods. It was a big fat one, very fragrant.

I absolutely adore fresh vanilla, it’s so delicate in the taste but so strong in the smell.

Anyway, I had to use it but I didn’t really know what to make with it. I wanted something which would make the flavor of the vanilla pod shine and not be overtaken by other ingredients. So I decided to make some Iles flottantes (floating islands).

I’d never made it myself, you can find quite decent ones in supermarkets in France so I never really tried. When I was little, I used to be mad about them (my mum is delighted to tell the stories of me and Iles flottantes).

If you never ate it, it’s something you have to do. It’s a very impressive dessert for dinner parties.

For 6 people, you’ll need:

– 4 eggs, yolk and white separated
– 80g of sugar (for the crème anglaise)+ 90g for the meringue + 50g for the caramel
– 1 vanilla pod, scraped
– 500ml of milk
– 1 tablespoon of water

Make the crème anglaise (runny custard) by heating the milk and the scraped vanilla pod until boiling.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and gently pour the hot vanilla milk while still whisking.

Put it back on a low heat and stir for 5 minutes without boiling. Put it aside and in the fridge for cooling.

For the meringue, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until firm.

Fill a pan with water, simmer it and poach blobs of meringues, 1 minute on each side and put them aside.

Make the caramel by heating sugar and water together until golden brown. Leave it to cool in the fridge.

When you’re serving your dessert, pour some crème anglaise in your serving bowls, then one or two poached meringues and then a tablespoon of caramel, which is going to give the sweetness.

You can make the Iles flottantes the day before you want to eat them and leave them in the fridge

Mylène

Express greediness

This Easter has been soooo busy this year. A part of my family came to visit and I really wanted to celebrate properly. Actually, I made myself busy… I made my own chocolate eggs (which took a very long while), I also made some egg shaped chocolate macarons, decorated biscuits…

We had a very nice time all together, the weather was not as good as expected but it was ok at the end.

Anyway, I wanted to share a recipe I’ve found a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes, especially in the evening, I’m absolutely dying for something sweet after dinner but I haven’t got anything suitable. It’s during one of these times that I’ve found this recipe online. Of course, I didn’t feel like cooking anything too long (more than 5 minutes)and I wanted something delicious.

So, let’s talk about this ultra super express sweet pleasure!! It’s a Spanish biscuit called mantecao, it is extremely crumbly so very delicate. I honestly don’t know any other recipe as quick, easy and delicious as this. Enough with my blablabla, here’s the recipe…

For about 20 biscuits:

–  100g of sunflower oil
–  100g of sugar
–  200g of plain flour
–  A teaspoon of vanilla extract

Mix all the ingredients together, make little balls, bake for 10-12min at 180°C. The biscuits must not be golden or brown, they have to stay white otherwise they’ll be rock hard. Leave to cool down and eat.

I told you it was quick!

Some people add lemon rind, cinnamon… The original recipe is made with lard. The thought of it makes me sick but if you’re not vegetarian and your taste buds are not sissies, you’re welcome to try the real thing.