Posts Tagged ‘vanilla extract’

Recipe For Almond Cake

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

This recipe began with a blog post from David Lebovitz, who wrote that his desert island food would be Almond Cake.  So with great anticipation, I tried his recipe several weeks back, but while Sophie and I loved the marzipan-almond luxury and the old style moist, fulsome texture, we both found the taste overpoweringly sweet; I do tend towards the puritan rather than one for luxury.  I checked the recipe, which I had got correct, so decided massively to reduce the sugar content from 415.75g to 262.5g (14.7oz to 9¼ oz), which still gives a balanced and sweet cake.

The glory of this cake rests with the use of almond paste or pre-made marzipan, which is then supplemented by adding extra almond extract and vanilla extract to bolster the volatiles in the flavour profile.  You need to use a shop-bought marzipan as the texture is much finer than a home-made version. 

It is also one of those cakes which matures with age, becoming moister and the aromas maturing nicely, rather than being one of those cakes that become dry and crumbly. 

It would be fabulous eaten with a cooked seasonal berries, or with a little amaretto drizzled onto it for a boozy alternative.  There’s a creamier alternative Almond Cake recipe at Chocolate & Zucchini that adds yoghurt or sour cream for further luxury.

(Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz)

Ingredients For Almond Cake

Ingredients For Almond Cake


150g / 5¼ oz Fairtrade caster sugar
150g / 5¼ oz marzipan (I used Crazy Jack Organic Marzipan)
75g / 2½ oz organic ground almonds
140g / 5 oz organic plain flour
225g / 8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature and chopped into cubes
1½ tsp baking powder
¾ tsp sea salt
1 tsp natural vanilla extract (naturally, I used Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract)
1 tsp natural almond extract (once again, I used Steenbergs natural almond extract)
6 large eggs, at room temperature and whisked gently

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

Sieve together the baking powder, plain flour and sea salt in a mixing bowl.

Separately, put the caster sugar, marzipan, ground almonds and a tablespoon of the plain flour into a food processor.  Grind the mixture until the almond has become finer and the marzipan is broken up further, so that it is all a fine breadcrumb texture.

Add the unsalted butter, pure vanilla extract and natural almond extract and process until fluffy.

Pouring Eggs Into Batter For Almond Cake

Pouring Eggs Into Batter For Almond Cake

Add the blended eggs in stages – firstly add about a quarter and blitz until blended in then add a tablespoon of plain flour and mix, then add the next quarter, blend and add next tablespoon of plain  flour and so on.  Add the remaining plain flour and pulse a couple of times until it has just mixed together.

Pour the batter into the cake tin, scraping it all in.  Put cake mix into the oven and bake for 65 minutes or until the cake is brown on the top and set in the middle.

Almond Cake

Almond Cake

When you remove it, run a sharp knife around the edge of the cake, then leave to rest and cool completely in the tin.  Then remove the cake from the cake tin, take off the baking parchment on the base and dust with icing sugar, should you so wish.

A Slice Of Home Made Almond Cake

A Slice Of Home Made Almond Cake

Recipe For Sweet Pastry Per Pierre Hermé

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Having been given a great sweet tart pastry recipe by Anthony Stern from Independent Foods, I have recently come across an even better Sweet Tart Dough in Pierre Hermé’s book “Chocolate Desserts”.  I must admit to being given the heads up about the wonders of Hermé’s Sweet Pastry from Chubby Hubby’s blog in February 2010.  Here’s the recipe from the book, amended into British english:


285g / 10 oz unsalted butter (at room temperature)
150g / 5¼ oz icing sugar, sieved (in US, confectioners’ sugar)
100g / 3 ¼ oz finely ground almonds (it is worth giving ground almonds from the supermarket an extra whizz in the food processor to grind them down a little bit further)
½ tsp sea salt (don’t ruin the pastry with a cheap industrial free flow salt)
½ tsp pure vanilla extract (use Steenbergs if you can – highly biased viewpoint, so sorry)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (at room temperature)
490g / 17¼ oz plain flour (in US all-purpose flour), sieved

1.  Place the butter in the bowl of a mixer or food processor with paddle fixture and beat/pulse until creamy, scraping down the edges as needed.

2.  Add the sieved icing sugar and process until well mixed in.  Next, you need to add the ground almond powder, sea salt and pure intense vanilla extract, and process until smooth.  Scrape the bowl’s sides if you need to.  Now add the eggs and process to blend.

3.  Add the plain flour in three parts and pulse/mix until the dough mixture starts to get together.  Whatever you do, you mustn’t overblend this and you should stop as it starts to form together into a ball.

4.  Remove the sweet pastry dough and divide into thirds, shape each third into a ball and put each into a plastic bag, then flatten it.  If using soon, let it settle in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but preferably longer.  Freeze the rest and use within a month.  When starting from the frozen pastry medallions, it takes about 45 minutes before the dough is ready for rolling out.

5.  To make the pastry crust, take a 24cm tart ring (9 – 10 inch) and lightly oil or butter it.

Sweet Pastry Disc Ready To Roll

Sweet Pastry Disc Ready To Roll

6.  Lightly flour a surface and a rolling pin, then roll out the pastry medallion, working it in each direction to ease the shape out into a very rough & ready circular shape.  Take up the rolled sweet pastry dough and layer it over the tart dish.  Prick all over the surface – I actually only do a triangle in the centre to prevent it bobbling up, but you should do more, or so the experts say.  Patch any tears or thin areas with extra pastry that can simply be worked into the dough in the dish.  Chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

7.  Preheat the oven to 180oC / 350oF.

8.  Now line the crust.  The proper way to do this as all the greats tell you from Delia Smith through to Pierre Hermé is to fit a circle of baking paper into the crust and fill it with dried beans or rice.  I am lazy and I cheat – I scrunch up some aluminium foil, roll it into a roundish length and shape it around the edge of the pastry crust to keep the edges shaped and upright.

Sweet Pastry Dough Lining Tart Dish

Sweet Pastry Dough Lining Tart Dish

9.  Bake the crust for 18 – 20 minutes until it is lightly coloured.  If you need to fully bake the crust, remove the parchment and beans and bake for another 3 – 5 minutes until golden, but if you’ve cheated with aluminium in a round then the centre should have baked as well already, and you don’t need this extra baking time.

10.  Cool on a cooling rack for use later, and at least within 8 hours of baking.

Baked Pie Crust With Nutella Filling

Baked Pie Crust With Nutella Filling

Two Business Decisions That Will Shape Steenbergs Over Years Ahead

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

We’ve made a couple of small, seemingly innocuous commercial decisions in the last 10 days that will probably have a dramatic impact on Steenbergs as a business over the next 5 – 10 years.

Firstly, we had a visit from Waitrose at their behest to discuss some own label lines of flavoured salts that they would incorporate into exclusive recipe based adverts by Heston Blumenthal and Delia Smith.  We decided to turn down with working with them any further for many reasons, but the key thing really just boiled down to the fact that own label,  non organic work for a high street retailer just didn’t fit with where Steenbergs wants to go, particularly where neither of these chefs have any leanings towards “green issues”, i.e. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall might have made our decision harder.

Secondly, we have just asked to stop our FLO-Cert Trader Status for Fairtrade spices as the commercial basis for it didn’t stack up.  We can still trade Fairtrade spices in the UK and Ireland, but having to market Fairtrade spices across Europe for tiny margins was just not economic for us – we were actually not making any money on that side at all except for some sales of organic Fairtrade vanilla extract, but that work died away for us late last year when Divine switched their supplier.  Also, allied to that, there was no real interest from major chocolate makers for good Fairtrade vanilla as Green & Black’s has managed to get a derogation and so uses a non-Fairtrade vanilla extract in its Fairtrade chocolate bars, while Cadbury’s Dairy Milk contains industrial vanillin rather than a gorgeous vanilla alongside it’s “glass and a half of fresh milk from the British Isles”.

Why have we said no to both?  We believe that the next stage for small, ethical food producers is building out our use of the Internet.  We believe that media, communications and shopping will come closer together and over time those specialists with a web presence that has rich media content will be able to more than hold their own against the big behemoths that are the high street retailers.  The key is rich, unique content and the creation of web personality, rather than just being a database of products loitering on the world wide web. 

Why can small businesses like us succeed? (a) we have a personality that is not created in the marketing department; (b) software and technology is free and open on the Internet ranging from blogging tools to Twitter and via Youtube, which will kill any uniqueness that big business gets from their technology investments as it will all become free – look what the Internet is doing for newspapers and music and watch it creep out into the physical world; (c) who really would want the hassle of managing a portfolio of expensive freehold/leasehold property like Tesco or Sainsbury or Whole Foods or Holland & Barrett which cannot be moved around nor is it being constantly advertised as in the retailing etherworld?

New Organic Vanilla From Tahiti

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

We’ve had a delivery of some gorgeous fecund organic vanilla from Tahiti.  It’s brilliant kit and it’s totally different from normal organic vanilla from Madagascar – firstly, it’s a different species of vanilla orchid, called Vanilla tahitensis as against the standard Vanilla planifolia; and secondly they insist on a higher moisture content than is standard for typical vanilla from India or Madagascar or Uganda so they look really juicy, moist and fat.  These Tahitian organic vanilla pods look so gorgeously bountiful and full of flavour.

The flavour of these Tahitian vanilla pods is full of smooth, luxurious and rich vanilla aromas and tastes, but they seem to have a more delicate flavour than standard Madagascan vanilla, while there is a hint of anise and loads of orchid floral delight coming through.

I love it as a great alternative to classic Bourbon organic vanilla pods.  These complement Steenbergs range of organic vanilla that includes Bourbon vanilla from Antsirabe Nord in Madagascar and premium vanilla beans from Eastern Congo.

For more on these go to Steenbergs web shop.

Steenbergs As Recommended On Delia Online

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Steenbergs Home Bakery range has been recommended on Delia Online as a Good Buy today which is pretty nice really:

Recipe – Sweet Tart Dough or Sweet Pastry

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

I am not very good at making pastry.  Some people say that you need cold hands to make pastry and dough, but I have warm hands as I seem always to be burning away all that food – perhaps I just never sit still or my metabolism runs too fast. 

So I asked our good friend, Anthony Sterne to come up with his easy pastry recipes and then for us to have a go at them ourselves.  Anthony used to be a development chef at Pret A Manger in London before setting out on his own, originally making pies and pastry with exotic fillings and has now branched out into quiches and (very successfully) into delicious cakes.  His business is called Independent Foods – originally I’s Pies – and his great creations are available in Booths, Morrisons and Waitrose, but in our opinion should be more widely available.  You can check his web site out at

In Anthony’s words “this recipe creates a crisp, biscuity pastry that is perfect as a base for tarts or mince pies.  As long as the oven is well preheated it generally works really well without blind baking.  The most important consideration is to make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature (especially the butter and eggs) before starting.”

400g / 14oz plain flour
160g / 5.5oz good butter (softened)
140g / 5oz caster Sugar
2 large eggs (we only ever use free-range)
1 tsp Steenbergs Organic Vanilla Extract 

Use an electric mixer with the beater attachment or a bowl and a wooden spoon to cream the butter and caster sugar together.  The mixture should be light in colour and slightly fluffy in texture.

Beat the eggs and add gradually with the teaspoon of Steenbergs Organic Fairtrade vanilla extract, mixing all the time.  If the mixture starts to split, you can add a tablespoon of flour, however it shouldn’t split as long as everything isn’t too cold.

Once all the egg has been incorporated, you can add the flour and continue to mix until a smooth dough is formed.  The pastry should be soft but not sticky, if it sticks to your finger when poked just add a bit more flour.

You can leave the pastry in a cool place (not the fridge) for half an hour to relax although it is fine to use it straight away.  Roll out on a well floured surface.  It doesn’t keep well in the fridge as it becomes hard and unworkable although any excess is fine to make into shells and freeze for later use.

Steenbergs Fairtrade Vanilla – Some Background

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I tried to post a response online at The Times in relation to their article but they wouldn’t post it – perhaps it was too long or too partisan.  In any case here are some further details on Steenbergs vanilla

The article in The Times is unfortunately in part true as child labour is one of the big problems with vanilla in Madagascar and the developing world.  I am not sure about widespread employment of children below the age of 8 years old, but it certainly might exist in pockets and will tend to happen around harvest time on family farms. 

Other major problems include: very high levels of general poverty and low levels of development within Madagascar where GNI per capita is $410 for 2008 compared to $45,390 for the UK, ranking Madagascar 145th out of 182 countries; and environmental issues such as degradation of the rainforests for slash & burn agriculture and massive losses of unique biodiversity in Madagascar. 

These issues are being addressed in a small way by Steenbergs through a focus on (a) organic agriculture and (b) Fairtrade vanilla, but the fight must still go on to improve further the development prospects of the Malagasy people.

Steenbergs vanilla beans come from three Fairtrade projects in North Eastern Madagascar with about 1000 farmers structured into co-operatives.  Employed staffing is low at 60 people with a large amount of seasonal workers, reaching up to 400 people.  Child labour is prohibited.  All workers are paid above the minimum Malagasy wage and lunch is provided for free and is not deducted from wages.  All employees work 8 hours a day from Monday to Friday and 4 hours on Saturday morning.  If additional work is needed, overtime is paid at a higher rate.  The working week is no more than 60 hours.  Employees are provided with work clothes. 

Here are some basic facts relating to financial status of region:

  • Vanilla represents over 90% of agricultural income of planters’ families with rest coming from sales of coffee and some rice, but perhaps more importantly it is these cash crops that enables farmers to generate income above pure subsistence farming; the rest of their farming is cassava, rice and vegetables for their own consumption.  Each planter produces on average 400kg a year of green vanilla (unprocessed vanilla) every year which generates income of roughly $600/year per family.  Switching to organic Fairtrade vanilla generates income of over $2,000 for the same crop, an increase of $1,400 per year per family. 
  • So without Fairtrade and organic, vanilla farmers only earn less than $2 a day to live on and so their standard of living is miniscule, and even with Fairtrade and an income of $5.5 a day there is still a long way to go.  On top of this, a typical Malagasy family comprises 8 people plus sometimes some additional grandparents, and they live in  a bamboo hut of 20 – 30m2.
  • As for schooling in the vanilla growing regions, 80% of children aged 6 – 11 go to the local state school, but only 10 – 15% continue to middle school (12 – 15 years old) and 3% continue their schooling beyond the age of 15 years old.  Schools are usually about 100m2, which is then used to teach 4 grades, i.e. 300 children, in the same space.

    Vanilla Planters Walking Along Track

    Vanilla Planters Walking Along Track

  • Other social information: with a few exceptions, mains drinking water is not available nor is electricity.  Transport is by foot along country tracks and average distances of travel to various places are: 5 – 8km to middle school; 25km to high school; 25km to nearest dispensary for pharmaceuticals; and 90km to nearest hospital with first 20km by foot.

The Fairtrade premium has been used in the last year for the following:

  • Purchase of land and construction of silos for storage of rice
  • The repair of bridges and other small structures
  • Improvement of school facilities

Other projects being looked at include:

  • Drinking water supply and sewerage infrastructure
  • Improvement of country tracks to make walking easier
  • Irrigation systems to aid rice farming and stop “slash & burn” farming techniques
  • Plan on AIDS awareness to be conducted at school

For me, even Fairtrade seems like a drop in the ocean and more needs to be done.  But the key is to start taking those small steps towards greater economic stability and social improvements and to halt environmental degradation (stop the slash and burn of the forests). 


Vanilla Flower

Vanilla Flower

Fecondation or Hand Pollination of Vanilla Flowers

Fecondation or Hand Pollination of Vanilla Flowers

Initial Heating To Kill Green Vanilla Beans - Echadaudage

Initial Heating To Kill Green Vanilla Beans - Echadaudage

Curing and Testing the Maturing Vanilla Beans

Curing and Testing the Maturing Vanilla Beans

Sorting And Packing Fairtrade Vanilla

Sorting And Packing Fairtrade Vanilla

Child Labour and Vanilla

Monday, March 15th, 2010

There was a pretty damning article in The Times yesterday about child labour and low prices paid for vanilla from Madagascar – see, however rest assured our vanilla beans are not creating abuse like that.  Here is my full response to the article:

“At Steenbergs, we were one of the first people in Europe to start with Fairtrade spices before any of the supermarkets or other major spice brands.  We hate the fact that such a small amount is being on the high street for commodities that mean the difference between a sustainable living and real poverty and hunger for families in the developing world, including child labour on a big scale; a few pence saved by Tesco or Sainsbury translates into a huge difference back on the small farms in Madagascar, India and Sri Lanka.  When Axel Steenberg (that’s me) and Sophie Steenberg (my wife) started buying and selling organic spices back in 2003, there had been a few bad crops of vanilla in Madagascar so 90% of world supply disappeared overnight and the price of vanilla shot up to $500. We worked hard to pioneer Fairtrade spices and became one of the first to do these in the world.  As for vanilla, small farmers in India borrowed money and started planting vanilla plants to “cash in” on the boom, only for Madagascan supply to come back and the prices on the world market to collapse to below $20 now, leaving farmers in India with unpayable debts and suicides rising.  That’s where Fairtrade comes in, as it put a floor on the vanilla price purchased from source at $45 per kg of vanilla plus $6.50 as a Fairtrade premium, as well as having rules on using child labour and educating children and so on.

Fairtrade rules state that no child below the age of 15 may be employed (contracted) and any work may not interfere with schooling, or jeopardize “the social, moral or physical development of the young person”.  Also, the people involved must work under the Small Producers rules of Fairtrade and cannot be big industrial concerns.  This is audited annually by auditors working for Fairtrade as there is a fine line between a bit of casual work on the family farm (which is permitted and cannot be policed) and employed work which could drift to become like the article above.  The minimum price of $45 per kg is the price that is paid by our exporters of vanilla, whether from Madagascar or India, to the farmers groups plus the various costs of getting it here to Ripon in North Yorkshire.  We pay more for the gourmet high quality beans that we use for Steenbergs products or sell to people like Crazy Jack’s and a bit less for extract grade Fairtrade vanilla beans that go into Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract, so when you buy these products we have paid minimum prices way above the world market price, as well as adhering to the rules of Fairtrade and a chain of custody that ensures money gets down to the people who matter.  We are currently redesigning our vanilla packaging and you will be able to get two Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla beans for less than the price of non-organic vanilla in a supermarket – about £4.50 for two.

One of the things to look out for is that the vanilla in the your chocolate bars is actually from a Fairtrade vanilla.  So I am not convinced that your Fairtrade Dairy Milk Bar from Cadbury’s contains any Fairtrade vanilla, so it’s a bit of a swizz, just like the Green & Black’s Fairtrade Maya Chocolate Bar that does not include Fairtrade vanilla just a straight old organic one.

Find out more at for fairtrade products and about our ethics at and about how Fairtrade works at

Recipe for Vanilla Fudge and Coconut Ice

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

Fudge and coconut ice

I know this is really quite pathetic but I have only just cracked how to make fudge in the last year.  It always seemed to burn every time I tried to make it – the problem is that most recipes don’t give the mixture long enough for the sugar to be transformed into fudge.  I would then always turn the heat up too high and it would stick to the bottom and start burning, or turning the sugar to toffee and then burn.

Vanilla fudge 

450g    Caster sugar (organic & Fairtrade)
50g      Unsalted butter, diced
170g    Can evapourated milk
150ml   Full fat milk
½ tsp    Organic Fairtrade vanilla extract (Steenbergs is of course the best!?)

  1. Lightly oil a shallow non-stick baking tray – about 18cm.
  2. Gently heat the sugar, butter and milks in a metal saucepan, stirring with a wooden spoon until all the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Bring to the boil and bubble away gently, stirring continuously (and I mean all the time with no breaks) for 25 – 30 minutes.
  4. When the mixture reaches the soft ball stage or 116oC, remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract.
  5. Beat until the mixture becomes thick and pale in colour, then pour into the baking tray and leave to cool.  When cold cut into 2.5cm squares.
  6. For a variation, you could stir in 150g of organic chocolate rather than the vanilla extract, for a rich dark chocolate fudge.   

Coconut ice

397g    Can of sweetened condensed milk
500g    Icing sugar, sieved
350g    Desiccated coconut (organic if possible)
Few drops of red/pink food colouring (optional)

  1. Line a 20cm cake tin with baking paper.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the condensed milk and the sieved icing sugar, then stir in the desiccated coconut.
  3. Now divide the mixture into 2.  Put the first half into the prepared cake tin and press it into all the edges.
  4. Add the food colouring to the second half of coconut mixture and knead until the colour is evenly through.  Put this into the tin on top of the white layer and spread out. 
  5. Leave to set in a cool place, then cut it out into 1-2 cm squares.

Recipe for Traditional Pudding: Queen of Puddings

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

I was listening to Radio 4 the other day and they were talking about steam puddings and how it is a truly English traditional that is not found anywhere else.  One of the puds they were talking about was Queen of Puddings which was being made  at Riverford Farm Shop (I think). 

This is one of our firm family favourites and used to be my grandfather’s favourite pudding, as well.  I made it the other weekend for my parents as my dad says he never gets it cooked for him.  Here’s how we did it:


290ml / ½ pint full fat milk, ideally organic
15g / ½ oz butter, ideally organic
30g / 1 oz organic Fairtrade caster sugar
60ml / 4 tablespoons white breadcrumbs
Grated rind of 1 lemon
2 free range eggs, separated into whites and yolks
1tsp Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract
30ml / 2tbps raspberry jam or raspberries in a sauce, warmed to make runny
110g / 4 oz organic Fairtrade caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 180oC /350oF.

Warm the milk then add the butter and sugar.  Stir it all with a wooden spoon until the sugar has all dissolved, then add the breadcrumbs and lemon rind.

Seperate the eggs.  Whisk the eggs gently by hand and add the Steenbergs organic Fairtrade vanilla extract into this.  When the breadcrumbs mixture has cooled down a bit, stir in this egg yolk mixture thoroughly.  Pour the breadcrumb custard mix into a pie dish and leave to stand for 30 minutes somewhere cool.

Put into the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes, or until set.  This can be done in a bain marie for even more exacting results, but it doesn’t need it if you watch over it.  Remove and allow to cool.

Reduce the oven to 150oC /300oF.

Using the warmed jam, spread this over the top of the set breadcrumb-custard base.  At my parents, we used some frozen raspberries from the garden which we warmed through and then added some sugar to; this was less sweet than using raspberry jam and had a better mouth feel or texture, but maybe are less close to hand.

Whip the egg whites until stiff and then whisk into this about 2 teaspoons of the caster sugar.  Whisk again until very stiff and then fold in all but ½ teaspoon of caster sugar.  Pour this over the top of the base, then sprinkle over the remaining caster sugar.

Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes until the meringue is set and lightly brown at the edges.

You could serve this alone, as we do, or with a luxurious clotted cream or even vanilla infused whipped cream.