Posts Tagged ‘vanilla extract’

Recipe for Speedy Vanilla Banana Pancakes

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

Speedy Vanilla Banana Pancakes anyone? Seriously, you won’t believe how easy and quick they are, took 10 minutes from start to finish and they’re gluten free. This recipe is reproduced by kind permission of the wonderful NikiBakes.

Here’s what you need for 10-12 pancakes: (Use organic ingredients where possible)

Gluten free Banana Pancakes from NikiBakes, featuring Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Vanilla Extract

Gluten free Banana Pancakes from NikiBakes, featuring Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade Vanilla Extract

2 bananas, mashed up
4 eggs
1 teaspoon of baking powder
4 tablespoons of coconut flour
2 tablespoons of almond milk
1 teaspoon of organic Fairtrade vanilla extract @steenbergsltd
3-5 tablespoons of coconut oil – for frying

Simply blend together with a whisk and fry on either side for about 2-4 minutes on each side, low heat is best for these fluffy cloud like pancakes and can burn easily so do watch them!

Happy Baking everyone!

What’s Going On With Vanilla?

Monday, July 24th, 2017
Fille Vanille

Vanilla Beans Being Processed In Madagascar

Having built a decent line in Fairtrade organic vanilla, we recently have had to stop selling it to trade because of supply issues.  At the same time, we’ve been asked by many new customers for vanilla or Fairtrade vanilla.  Everyone’s scrabbling around for a very limited supply of real vanilla, and also wanting a cheaper price where there’s none to be had – the market really has no supply and the prices are over £500/kg if you can find it.

But why is Steenbergs only selling it retail and not to wholesale customers?

In short, it’s because we’ve made almost nothing on vanilla over the last few years, vainly hoping that supply and pricing issues would ease through time.  However, because of recent cyclones and changes to vanilla processing in Madagascar, prices have remained too high for us to finance anymore.  So when we were asked to commit £250,000 for what used to cost £50,000, we politely decided now was the time to stop selling vanilla on a general scale.

Many reasons have been given for why the pricing is so high.  But it really is a simple economic matter of supply and demand – bad weather and poor processing practices have materially reduced the quantity of vanilla from the world’s largest producer (Madagascar) without any material reduction in demand.

It’s become a real issue in the industry, meaning that very little is available in the market.  And with retailers unwilling to move prices, it became a mug’s game to continue subsidising the prices.

But the real story is more nuanced and has its root cause in the introduction of free markets into the vanilla sector in the 1990s, and the rise of neoliberalisim and the Washington Consensus.  It has taken 20 years to unravel but the end result will be increased poverty within Madagascar, as well as fewer natural vanilla ice cream products on the shelves of high street retailers.

For those interested in the longer view, here’s my timeline:

Where The Story Begins: 1995 – 2000

Vanilla Planters Walking Along Track

Vanilla Planters Walking Along Track

The seeds of the vanilla story can be found in 1995.  Before then, the vanilla market was a fixed monopoly – the Madagascan Government controlled quality, harvesting and pricing, which it negotiated with the major exporters and producers each year in Paris.  This ensured vanilla beans were harvested at strict times, were processed at Government curing centres and that prices were kept in a tight $70 – $90/kg.

But the rise of neoliberal economics and the Washington Consensus put paid to this,  Following advice from the EU and the World Bank, Madagascar dropped the carefully controlled, planned vanilla economy and let rip with free market economics.  Immediately, the price of vanilla plunged.  Next, the EU unravelled the state-controlled curing system and encouraged farmers to cure their own beans to earn more cash for themselves.  While prices continued to remain low, quality also suffered.

Allied to this, Madagascan politics were tricky to say the least, with the Madagascan Government suffering many years of weak government, governance and political instability.

The Start Of Fairtrade Vanilla: 2005 – 2013

When we started out in 2004, there had been three years of failed crops in Madagascar, which supplies around 85% of global supply.  The price of vanilla rocketed to a high of $600 (2005).  Small-scale farmers around the world wanted to cash in and took out bank loans to plant vanilla vines – vanilla really is a real small-scale artisan crop.

But by 2006, the Madagascan crop had succeeded, together with additional supply from new regions, and the price imploded, crashing to $50 (2005/6), then further down to $25 (2006-8).  Financial disaster ensued for the many farmers that had borrowed against the higher prices.

In stepped Fairtrade.  This was a classic Fairtrade scenario – to protect relatively unsophisticated farmers, who grow cash crops in the Global South for the Global North, from the harshest impacts of free markets, and the effects of global commodity and financial markets.  Fairtrade vanilla supply chains were developed in Madagascar and India.

The Vanilla Tightens: 2013 – 2017

However, the story did not end there.

In 2013/4, real vanilla began to increase in popularity as a premium addition to many products, with consumer interest in purity – organicFairtradeGMO-free becoming important.  With increased demand, prices for vanilla began to move from $20/kg to $55-65/kg.  At the same time, farmers started storing their vanilla in vacuum packs.  After several poor harvests, prices rocket to $80/kg from $30/kg for green beans by the end of the year, with cured vanilla at $240/kg.

In 2017, when the market was expecting a better harvest, disaster struck with the devastating cyclone – Enawo – bringing winds of up to 270 km/hour.  It began on 7 March striking land between Antalaha and Sambava, then forked to Maroansetra and Mananara, before crossing the centre of Madagascar and leaving on the south of the island on 10 March.  It destroyed about 20% of vanilla plants in Madagascar, hitting the north-east and east coast of Madagascar the hardest.  Antalaha was affected the most, with 90% of the town, its infrastructure and crops destroyed.  Enawo’s impact has been that all the expected uplift in supply was decimated, so the harvest is expected to remain at 2016 levels at about 12,000 tonnes, equivalent to 1,400 tonnes of exportable vanilla beans (i.e. 8kg of green vanilla for 1kg cured vanilla) – this is insufficient for global demand.

The organic market is even tighter.  Effectively, there is no free stock in the supply chain, with speculators buying up anything they can find, drip feeding them into the market at very high prices.  Cured organic vanilla is at $545/kg and we expect it to be at these levels for at least another 18 months and there to be no meaningful reduction in prices until 2019-20.

With our forward contracts delivered and at these high prices, vanilla pods and vanilla extract has now become uneconomic and high risk.  Therefore, in May 2017, Steenbergs decided to reduce its position in the market and only fulfil internet orders, removing itself from the wholesale market.  Basically, the risks in the market became too great for a small business like Steenbergs.

Downside Risks – Disaster Looms in 2020?

It is our opinion that disaster looms ahead for vanilla with a market crash self-evident.

On the one hand, high prices are great news for farmers.  However, the short-term masks significant downside risks in the not too distant future:

  • Demand is contracting with end-users reformulating and/or switching to artificial alternatives.  Industrial vanillin is suitable for many applications where a velvety richness is needed, without any complexity of aroma or taste – e.g. for cheaper chocolate or soft drinks.  In the period 2000 – 2005, about one-quarter of demand fell away, although some returned more recently with demand for pure vanilla.
  • Supply is increasing with vanilla vines being replanted at a rate of 25%.  Vanilla orchids flower 3 – 4 years after being planted, with vanilla pods being harvested for the first time several months later.  This replanting will return production to higher levels than prior to 2010.

The convergence of reduced demand and increased supply will at some point cause prices to crash – perhaps in 2020.  When that happens, it will unfortunately be the small-scale farmers that suffer – as always.

An Easter Treat: Dark Chocolate ganache cake with happy hippy flower salt

Wednesday, April 12th, 2017
Easter Chocolate Cake

Easter Chocolate Cake

It’s the classic combination that’s a true winner every time: Dark chocolate and sea salt. Happy hippy flower salt is wonderfully versatile in both savoury and sweet dishes. The flavour is delicate and soft on the palette yet robust and course enough for it to be sprinkled liberally on top of the cake. This vegan chocolate ganache cake has a wonderfully gorgeous crunch to it thanks to the happy hippy flower salt, making it absolutely stunning for showcasing your cake.

This dark chocolate ganache cake is perfect for special occasions as it can be used as a base for many different events or when you just fancy a cake for yourself. It’s used here for Easter and is so chocolatey but enhanced further by the happy hippy flower salt. Here’s how you can create this gluten free and light yet tasty vegan dark chocolate ganache cake which everyone can enjoy:

All you need is:

(Use organic/natural real food ingredients where possible)
Serves: 6-8

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

From your kitchen:

A whisk
A fork
A large mixing bowl
A couple of teaspoons and tablespoons
A round baking tin
A silicone spatula
A small glass bowl
A wooden spoon
A butter knife
A sheet of greaseproof paper

For the cake:

3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of coconut oil
4 tablespoons of agave syrup
3 tablespoons of coconut sugar
Up to 150ml of almond milk
50g of self-raising flour
200g of almond flour
½ teaspoon of baking powder
60g of non-dairy dark chocolate chips (80% minimum)
2 tablespoons of raw cacao powder or 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract

Happy Hippy Flower Salt

Happy Hippy Flower Salt

For the ganache frosting:

200g of non- dairy dark 80% chocolate
2 tablespoons of boiling water
2 tablespoons of agave syrup
1 level tablespoon of happy hippy flower salt

Step 1:

Preheat your oven to 180° C or gas mark 4 and line your round baking tray with greaseproof paper. Set aside whilst you prepare your cake.

Step 2:

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together your coconut oil and olive oil. Add in your coconut sugar and agave syrup and mix well.

Step 3:

Next, using a wooden spoon, fold in your cacao/cocoa powder, almond flour, self-raising flour and baking powder and alternate with your almond milk so your cake batter isn’t too thick to handle.

Step 4:

Finally, add in your dark chocolate chips, your Himalayan salt and fold in gently. Pour your batter into your cake tin and bake for 15-20 minutes. Turn over onto a wire rack to cool whilst you prepare your frosting.

Step 5:

In small glass bowl break up your dark chocolate into little pieces and add your boiling water. Whisk in gently using your hand whisk or fork. Add in more hot water if needed and if it’s too watery, break in some more dark chocolate. Whisk in your agave syrup which will help to thicken up your frosting. Allow to cool thoroughly before using your frosting knife or butter knife to frost your cake. Sprinkle your happy hippy flower salt over your cooled cake and it’s ready for your Easter table. This cake can be stored in the fridge for up to three days.

Article written and researched by

Niki Behjousiar

Recipe Creator and founder of nikibakes

Twitter: @Niki_Beh 

nikibakes has been blogging for over 10 years and has a passion for gluten free and dairy free recipes. She’s a Persian chef who loves all things spice and particularly enjoys Asian and South American cuisine. She’s always on the lookout for fresh and delicious flavour combinations and uses our spices daily in her cooking and on her blog.


Pretty Little Rich Cake

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

It was Sophie’s birthday the other day.  We went out en famille for a Chinese meal at Sweet Basil in Kirk Hammerton.  Sophie wanted a strawberry cake, so I felt like trying something a bit old-fashioned.  Before Bird and Dr Oetker independently came up with the idea of baking powder to put the fluff into your cakes through a bit of basic chemistry, cakes were made with more eggs and the air was physically put in through some hard grafted whisking.  Cakes were generally less light, but had a lot more body to them.  I also think that these old-fashioned cakes tend to soften over time rather than dry out as much as more modern cakes.

This little cake looks pretty, dressed in fluffy white cream and gorgeous pink strawberries, and is full of that extra rich taste from a profusion of eggs.  I like it much more than your typical sandwich type cake, and it is not much more complicated to make.

Strawberries & Cream Vanilla Cake


125g / 4½ oz / 1 cup organic plain flour
125g / 4½ oz / ½ cup organic caster sugar
4 medium free range eggs, at room temperature
1tsp organic Fairtrade vanilla extract
75g / 2¾ oz / ⅓ cups / ⅔ sticks butter, melted then cooled a bit
2tbsp strawberry jam/conserve
4-6 decent sized strawberries, quartered
125ml / ½ cup whipping cream
½-1tbsp vanilla sugar

How to make

Start by preparing two 20cm/9 inch round cake tins: lightly grease the tins, then line with base with some baking paper.

Preheat the oven to 180C/355F.

Sieve the plain flour then set it aside.

Add the caster sugar, eggs and vanilla extract into a heatproof bowl.  Boil a kettle of water and put into a pan, then reheat it until simmering.  Put the heatproof bowl with egg-sugar mix over the simmering water, using a hand-held electric whisk at the highest level for 5 minutes.  This will increase the volume to around three times the initial level and the colour to a creamy yellow colour.

Scoop about one-third of the sieved plain flour over the egg-sugar mixture, then using a big metal spoon fold the flour into the mixture.  Repeat for the remaining two thirds of plain flour.  Next drizzle the cooled liquid butter into the mix in thirds again, folding in carefully each time.  The key is do the minimal of folding to keep the air in the egg-sugar mixture as much as possible.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tins and then bake for 25 minutes.  Leave in the tins for a few minutes before turning out the baked tin, and allow it to cool down fully.

This cake is delicious on its own, but I wanted to make it into something a bit fancier for Sophie:

  • Firstly, I spooned some strawberry jam onto one of the cakes – not too much, but enough to stick the two cakes together.  Then I put the two cakes together.
  • Secondly, I whipped some cream with the vanilla sugar – pour the cream into a mixing bowl, then whisk until getting harder, when you should sprinkle over the caster sugar; whisk some more until the cream makes soft peaks.  Scoop and smooth over the top of the cake, then arrange the chopped strawberries in the whipped cream.
Strawberry & Cream Cake

Strawberry & Cream Cake

Enjoy on its own, or with a delicious cup of Earl Grey tea or First Flush Darjeeling.

Homemade Marshmallows

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

It is not very often that I rip out pages from cookery magazines for use at a later date, so it was a surprise when the other day I found some pages I had ripped from a copy of the magazine, Delicious, from some years back.  In it, I had obviously fallen for some beautiful photography of brightly coloured and divine looking marshmallows.

I love marshmallows.  They are one of those things that I know I should dislike but really love – another guilty secret is Haribo sweets, which we used to buy as a treat when we went to Munich to visit relatives back in the 1970s, but which are ubiquitous nowadays.  Many years ago I tried to make my own marshmallows but they came out as a truly gloopy mix – a cross between a sweet and jelly cubes.  So I liked the idea of creating something really fluffy and delicious.

This recipe really does work and the key is getting the fluffy, bubblegum stage in the middle just right.  Interestingly, after a week, they had the texture and flavour of shop-bought marshmallows, which just goes to show how different freshly made is from manufactured foods.

I reckon that you could make deliciously flavoured versions with orange extract or rose water (or better rose oil), or matcha.  The bittersweet of matcha tea against the sugar syrup of the marshmallow would go well, and the colour would be weirdly enticing.

Homemade Marshmallows

Homemade Marshmallows

Recipe for marshmallows

120ml /4¼ fl oz liquid, cool
23g / ¾ oz gelatine
440g /1lb caster sugar
160ml / 5½ fl oz golden syrup
115ml /4 fl oz warm water
Vegetable oil for greasing
Cornflour for dusting

Line a baking tray of rough dimensions that’s 2cm (½ inch) and 30cm by 20cm (12 inch x 8 inch).  You should use clingfilm for this that has been well oiled with the vegetable oil.

Pour the cool liquid into a mixing bowl, ideally the bowl for your mixer.  You can use this stage to get a good flavour into the marshmallows, for example we used citrus and berry smoothies.  You could use matcha tea or spice flavours (see notes later), but if you want to add cocoa powder or coffee or fruit liqueurs or spice extracts, these should be added later.  If you are adding flavours later, just use water at this stage.  Sprinkle over with the powdered gelatine.  Set aside to allow the gelatine to absorb the liquid; it may need a stir to ensure that any dry patches are fully dampened.

Put the caster sugar, golden syrup and warm water into a heavy bottomed pan, then over a medium heat dissolve the sugars to create a syrup.  At this stage, you should stir it gently to help with the creation of a sugar solution, brushing down any sugar crystals on the edge of the pan as these could burn later.

When dissolved, increase the heat and let the sugar syrup start to boil.  Let it boil pretty vigorously, but obviously without going over the top of the pan.  Do not stir, but check the temperature every so often.  When the temperature gets to 130C/266F, take off the heat and let cool for 1 – 2 minutes.  Do not let the temperature rise above 140C/284F, nor use below 130C/266F.

As it is cooling whisk the gelatine-liquid mix in a food mixer using a balloon whisk attachment.  Slowly drizzle the sugar syrup down the side into the mixing bowl; do not pour into the middle directly on to the whisk as this will crystallise out the sugar.  Whisk for some time to allow the mixture to cool down and to expand in size to an opaque bubblegum texture.  You can add flavours like coffee, chocolate, cocoa, fruit liqueurs or vanilla extract at this stage, or maybe rose oil or matcha tea.

Whisk Up Marshmallow Mixture To Bubblegum Texture

Whisk Up Marshmallow Mixture To Bubblegum Texture

Pour Marshmallow Mixture Into Tin Lined With Clingfilm

Pour Marshmallow Mixture Into Tin Lined With Clingfilm

Pour the mixture into the lined baking tray, then smooth over the top with an oiled knife or spatula.  Cover and leave to set for at least 2 hours by which time the top will be firm, but very sticky.

When set, dust a surface with some cornflour and turn the marshmallow on to this surface.  Gently remove the clingfilm, which will be pretty tightly stuck with the marshmallow.  Then with an oiled sharp knife cut into cubes and then dip into cornflour to counteract the stickiness.  Eat and enjoy.

As alternatives, you could use an infusion of mug of matcha tea or perhaps 1 cinnamon quill infused in boiling water for 15 minutes, then allowed to cool.  It is important to let the liquid for the gelatine be cool, so place in fridge to make sure of this.  Then for a colourful outside, you could grind some freeze dried fruits or berries in a coffee grinder, or you could use desiccated coconut.

Matcha Tea Cupcakes – Green, Healthy and Tasty Recipe

Monday, March 21st, 2011

The terrible events in Japan lay bare to us all how much we are still at the mercy of the elements, rather than completely in control of our earth.

Steenbergs Matcha Tea And Cocoa Powder

Steenbergs Matcha Tea And Cocoa Powder

So I decided to revisit my recent post on matcha tea and create these Matcha Tea Cupcakes ideal for charity events to raise money for the tsunami victims.  They are really delicious combination of matcha and cocoa, with with the cupcake tasting just of chocolate cake and the very mild seaweedy taste of the matcha in the icing complements the classic sweetness of the chocolate.  As an aside, this is great way to get some of the benefits of matcha without needing to drink a cup of slightly bitter matcha tea

Matcha Cupcakes

Matcha Cupcakes

Recipe for Matcha Tea Cupcakes

1 tsp (rounded) organic matcha tea
120ml / ½ cup milk
100g / ¾ cup plus 1 tbsp organic plain flour
1¼ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp Fairtrade cocoa powder
Pinch of sea salt
150g / 1 scant cup Fairtrade caster sugar
1 large free range egg
1 tsp Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract
50g / 3½ tsp unsalted butter 

For the topping:

80g / 5 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp (level) organic matcha tea, sieved
2 tbsp fromage frais
250g / 2 cups Faitrade icing sugar

1.  Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.

2.  Pour the milk into a milk pan, then sieve the matcha tea into the milk.  Whisk the mixture with a matcha whisk or a fork.  Then carefully heat the milk until hot to touch but not starting to simmer.  Take off the heat and set aside.

Infuse Milk With Green Matcha Tea

Infuse Milk With Green Matcha Tea

3.  Sieve the plain flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into a mixing bowl.  Add the sea salt and then tip in the caster sugar.  Mix the dry ingredients together.

Put All The Dry Ingredients Into Mixing Bowl

Put All The Dry Ingredients Into Mixing Bowl

4.  Put the egg and vanilla extract into the dry ingredients and mix up a bit with a fork.  Chop the unsalted butter into small cubes and add to the mixture.  Mix thoroughly with an electric whisk or in a blender.  When creamed together, add the matcha milk mix and throughly mix.

Mix In The Matcha Milk

Mix In The Matcha Milk

5.  Spoon the mixture into paper cupcakes until about three-quarters up.

Pour In Mixture Three Quarters Up Cupcake

Pour In Mixture Three Quarters Up Cupcake

6.  Place in oven and cook for about 25 minutes, or until spongy to the touch.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

7.  To make the matcha icing, simply mix all the ingredients together and put a dessertspoon of the matcha frosting onto each cupcake.

Mix Together The Ingredients For Matcha Frosting

Mix Together The Ingredients For Matcha Frosting

8.  Enjoy the taste straight away.

It’s A Mad World, Sometimes

Monday, February 28th, 2011

We are developing a vanilla paste to complement Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract, rose water etc. 

However, today I was sent the Specification and Material Safety Data Sheet by the guys who are going to do “the making it into a paste bit” for us.  Within this, it stated that “If Ingested: Induce Vomiting”.  On thinking this a bit extreme for a product that is already sold for human consumption to the public in shops and restaurants around Europe and the USA, I queried this statement.  The response was simple that if you ingested too much then this might be bad for you and then you should induce vomiting. 

I suspect that eating/ drinking too much Divine Orange Chocolate or smoked salmon or Mrs Kirkham’s delicious Lancahsire cheese or Coca-Cola or even our teas and so on and so on might be bad for the health and one should then induce vomiting, if it has not already started of its own accord; so why not then put health warnings on all foodstuffs that you eat this at your own risk.

It is just another symptom of our form-filling world where it is more important to tick some boxes rather than engage the brain and really think things through, i.e. businesses and bureaucrats are becoming ever more interested in covering their legal backsides than actually adding any real value.  So I am now going to buy a product that I am being told might cause “nausea and dizziness” if ingested specifically to sell to the public to ingest, so now the risk has shifted from the manufacturer to me, so it is lucky that my shoulders are broad enough to take on a bit more theoretical business risk.

Food Blogs November 2010 (Part 2)

Friday, December 10th, 2010

At Mahanandi during November, Indira proposed a Telugu menu for Thanskgiving celebrations, which looks a good menu.

While at Not Without Salt, Ashley has been sweetening up her Thanskgiving with delicious Mock Almond Crunch biscuits that I might try for my daughter’s rearranged birthday party (she had chicken pox for the original date, so we had to cancel).  I love the toasted almonds to give the sweet bite that nutty crunch.  Then Ashley talks about dark days during November, happy snow days and Duckfest, a day for preparing ducks from slaughter to plate.

While at Orangette, Molly Wizenberg thinks she might have found her new favourite Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and so I might need to also bake that for Emily’s birthday party.  I am always on the quest for a better chocolate chip cookie recipe, not that the one I currently use from Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall is bad, but this is one of those fab biscuits that just can be made in so many different ways.  A good chocolate chip cookie has a great balance of bitterness and sweetness and different textures coming from the biscuit and the chocolate.  Then Molly treats us to a great way to cook carrots with onions and thyme, which is a rare treat into the world of vegetable recipes.

At The Wednesday Chef, Luisa Weiss bakes a squash pie for a German-American Thanksgiving in Berlin and points us to a great video from The New York Times on making the perfect pie crust and links back to Orangette for a Chard, Onion, and Gruyère Panade from back in 2005.  Luisa, also, baked some Benne Wafers that in her words are “insanely good”.

While Ree Drummond at The Pioneer Woman Cooks puts us all to shame with the sheer volume of blogging she manages to do and cooking that she gets done.  Several recipes caught my eye, including: Green Bean Casserole which sounds a clever way to sneak in some veg past the kids (by the way it does include bacon so it is not vegetarian); Hard Sauce which is a Texan version of Brandy Butter using whiskey rather than brandy and used to scoop over puddings at Thanksgiving, especially apple pie and pumpkin pie; Bobby’s Pumpkin Bread Pudding With Vanilla Creme Anglaise per Bobby Flay; Parker House Rolls that are an essential bread for Thanksgiving.

At Wild Yeast, Susan explains to us why you cannot switch baker’s yeast for soudough starter in bread recipes and vice versa at Going Wild.  Then, there is a recipe for Cranberry Bread that was ideal for Thanskgiving 2010 (or future Thanksgivings) and a Caramel Cheesecake, which sounds great for two reasons: I like cheesecake; and I also was given cheesecake for my birthday cake also in November, so snap.  While at Bread Cetera, there is a recipe for Baguettes a la Bouabsa, which call for an immense 21 hour fermentation period; they are (Steve B says) brilliant and after that length of prep time, I should hope they are stupendous.

Recipe For Rich Apple Cake

Friday, October 8th, 2010

The idea for this cake comes from the wonderful cook book “European Peasant Cookery” by Elisabeth Luard; it is her recipe for Apple Cake or Æblekage, which comes from Denmark.  “European Peasant Cookery” is one of those great cookbooks that is packed with recipes that will inspire you and has no pretty pictures to beguile you and get in the way of the cookery.

A Slice Of Rich Apple Cake

A Slice Of Rich Apple Cake

I have changed it quite a lot, switching self rasing flour for plain and increasing the number of eggs used, but the underlying concept remains the same – a rich, moist apple cake.  The result came out as a rich and fulsome apple cake that can be eaten hot or cold, as a cake or a pudding with custard or cream.  It is a delicious balance between the sweetness of the cake with the tart freshness of the cooking apples; it reminds me of Zwetschgendatschi, which is one of my favourite flavour memories buried deep in my soul from holidays spent in Bavaria around the Chiemsee.

Axel’s Apple Cake

500g / 1lb cooking apples, thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
2 pinches of organic Fairtrade mixed spice
1tbsp Fairtrade caster sugar, or flavoured sugar like cinnamon or lemon sugar (if using cinnamon sugar, drop the mixed spice)
225g / 8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature and chopped into cubes
195g / 6¾ oz Fairtrade caster sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature and whisked gently
1 tsp natural vanilla extract
195g / 6¾ oz organic plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ tsp sea salt
½ tsp organic Fairtrade cinnamon powder
75g / 2½ oz organic ground almonds

Preheat the oven to 160C/325F.  Take a 23cm / 9 inch cake tin and lightly oil the tin, remove any excess oil, then line the base with baking paper.

Windfall Apples From The Garden

Windfall Apples From The Garden

Go pick your apples, peel and core them, then slice thinly.  Place in a bowl and sprinkle the lemon juice over them all, then sprinkle with the caster sugar and a couple of pinches of mixed spice.  Thoroughly mix it up to make sure all slices are nicely coated with sugar and spice.  Leave until later.

Grind the ground almonds in a food processor to make them finer – I know it sounds weird but they are usually just too coarse.  Put to the side for use later in the recipe.

Cream the butter and the sugar together until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs and Steenbergs vanilla extract and whisk up fully.  Sieve together the flour, baking powder, sea salt and cinnamon powder.  Add the flour mix into the cake batter and throughly mix up, then add the ground almonds and mix into the batter.

Sugar And Butter Ready For Mixing

Sugar And Butter Ready For Mixing

Cream The Sugar And Butter

Cream The Sugar And Butter

Mix In The Eggs And Flour Mix

Mix In The Eggs And Flour Mix

Pour half the cake batter into the cake tin, then layer over half the apple slices.  Cover with rest of cake mixture and then layer rest of apple slices over the top of the cake. 

Layer The Apples On The Cake Batter

Layer The Apples On The Cake Batter

Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  At around 1 hour, sprinkle the top of the cake with 1 tablespoon of sugar and start looking and checking the cake to ensure you catch it just when it is cooked.  Remove from the oven and leave to cool in tin for about 10 minutes then turn out and cool on a wire rack.

Home Made Apple Cake

Home Made Apple Cake

Serve warm with custard or whipped cream, or cold as a cake with double cream or on its own.

Vanilla – A Beautiful And Sensual Spice

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010
Vanilla comes from the vanilla orchid, called Vanilla planifolia, which is native to Mexico, but is now indigenous in many tropical parts of the world, for example Madagascar and surrounding islands.  There is a second vanilla orchid called Vanilla tahitensis, which is native to Tahiti and Papua New Guinea, and has a slightly different flavour profile.  The vanilla orchid flower is a pretty, delicate light green colour.
Vanilla Orchid Flower

Vanilla Orchid Flower

In the wild, vanilla flowers are pollinated by the melipona bee, whereas outside of Mexico, it is pollinated by hand with a small wooden skewer to move the male pollen to the female stigma.  This process is sometimes called la marriage de vanille, or fécondation.
Fertilising The Vanilla Flowers

Fertilising The Vanilla Flowers

It is then a long careful process to tend the vines as they trail along little wires from post to post.  This tending period takes about 9 months.

Tending The Vanilla Vine

Tending The Vanilla Vine

Green Vanilla On The Vine

Green Vanilla On The Vine

After about 9 months, the green vanilla beans are picked and taken to the nearest vanilla processing centre.  At this stage, the vanilla beans looks like French or runner beans.  The first thing to do is to “kill” the beans, which basically denatures the enzymes that would simply make the vanilla rot, but allows the enzymes that result in the curing process to start.

Killing The Green Vanilla Beans

Killing The Green Vanilla Beans

The curing process then takes  several weeks before the raw green beans have turned a deep, dark brown. The pods are laid out on mats in the sun to heat up for the hoursduring the day, where the workers handle the beans and turn them over.  Late in the afternoon, the baking hot beans are collected and wrapped in blankets and straw mats, then placed into air-tight wooden containers to “sweat” overnight.

Collecting Vanilla Beans For Sweating

Collecting Vanilla Beans For Sweating

The head curer checks the progress of the curing every day and assesses when the time is right to stop this curing stage.

Checking On Curing Process In Karnataka In Southern India

Checking On Curing Process In Karnataka In Southern India

Quality Control On Curing Vanilla Beans In Madagascar

Quality Control On Curing Vanilla Beans In Madagascar

The next stage is the conditioning phase when the vanilla pods are held in storage for 3 months to let the flavours develop and run through.  During this conditioning stage, the beans are handled regularly, softening and shaping them – in the Madagascar, they roll the beans between their fingers and so resulting in a rounded shape, while in India, they tend to flatten them between their fingers giving a flatter, longer shape.

Madagascan Vanilla With Their Individual Markings

Madagascan Vanilla With Their Individual Markings