Thursday, 31 January 2013

vanilla notes + whole bean vanilla biscuits

butter stains on parchment and half a whole bean vanilla biscuit
have you ever looked up vanilla in the dictionary? its adjective element is described as ‘having no special or extra features; ordinary’. now consider this – a slim crème anglaise that softens a bittersweet terrine, crème patissière piped into profiteroles, a soft set custard gently flecked with an abundance of black vanilla seeds and classic desserts like crème brûlée and caramel custard. they would be bereft sans vanilla. 

score a vanilla bean along its length and it will release a pleasing aroma that is at once comforting and floral. if it were a colour it would lie on the spectrum of clotted cream to pale custard. it infuses milk with the kind of warmth that few other spices can muster. tuck a spilt bean into a jar of sugar to leave a whisper of its fragrance and flavour when baking. i will often use it to sweeten hot chocolate or a mug of warm milk for a winter treat. 

growing up, real vanilla bean was a luxury. it came tucked in the suitcase at the end of vacations abroad. now i send several at a time for mama whenever someone is travelling to pakistan. she uses it sparingly and for special occasions. the local pakistani brand of essence is called bush. it proudly proclaims its artificiality both in flavour and smell. until the 90s most of the vanilla ice-cream we ate was curiously almost neon yellow tone. i used to love rocco’s vanilla ice-cream with puddles of chocolate sauce or sometimes a sprinkle of instant coffee. that was mama’s idea. it would streak the ice-cream with lengths of bitterness and was delicious. i guess it was the crudest version of affogato, which i discovered when i moved to london. 

in baking vanilla may appear to have a supporting act but that seems unfair given how the smallest quantity of it elevates the whole. it loves chocolate, sweeteners like sugar and honey and all manner of fruit. most recipes i have used call for the seeds to be scraped or for the whole bean to be used to infuse and then discarded. so it was with surprise that i read one o one cookbooks whole bean vanilla cookie recipe. two textures of sugar help grind the bean to fineness. the butter is what holds the dough together. the rye flour provides a counterpoint to the refined all-purpose and balances the sweetness. the vanilla is the star of the show. 

this is my second batch and i am nowhere near perfection. unlike heidi’s my biscuits refuse to retain the crinkle-cutter edge. this batch did hold its circular shape though. i would not let these trivialities distract you from making this recipe. i personally think that they should be called biscuits, as they are crisp and firm. they are most certainly capable of withstanding a ‘dunk’. use a vanilla bean that is plump. i find that the best ones have a slight sheen to the surface. heidi’s tip that they should not be suspiciously plump is one to heed. 

whole bean vanilla biscuits
{whole bean vanilla biscuits} 
very slightly adapted from one o one cookbooks 

seventy grams icing sugar 
forty-five grams golden caster sugar 
one vanilla bean 
quarter teaspoon fine grain sea-salt 
one hundred and fifteen grams unsalted butter at room temperature 
half teaspoon vanilla extract 
fifty grams rye flour 
seventy grams all purpose flour 

if your bean has tough ends snip these off carefully. then cut the bean up into segments and place in your food processor. add both sugars and pulse till the whole bean is finely broken down and well dispersed into the sugars. then pulse in the salt. 

cut the butter into chunks and add it to the food processor along with the vanilla extract. pulse the mixture until well combined. the butter should be creamy and light by this point. add both flours and pulse to bring the contents into dough form (around five to ten seconds). 

this is a sticky dough so you will need two lengths of parchment paper to help roll it out. place the dough on one length and cover with another of the same size. then roll the dough to a quarter inch thickness. refrigerate the dough for at least half an hour ( i refrigerated mine for two hours as i find that is what helps the biscuits hold their shape better). 

when you are ready to bake preheat the oven to one hundred and seventy five celsius. line two baking sheets with parchment paper and then take out the rolled dough. stamp out the biscuits using a small biscuit cutter, placing them on the prepared sheets with an inch space between each. refrigerate any left over dough before you stamp and bake. bake in the top or bottom thirds of the oven for around ten to fifteen minutes or until pale golden. 

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