No butter, no eggs, definitely no vanilla.

It’s impossible to bake without either. I looked through my new Paris Sweets Cookbook, searching recipes for cookies, tarts, cakes, anything that doesn’t require eggs (of which my husband cooked the late two of for his egg sandwich last night) or butter (of which I have about 1 tablespoon, which I will be using on the last of my whole wheat (bleh) biscuits tomorrow for breakfast. After breakfast, I will certainly not have milk either, one more ingredient it is impossible to bake without.

Instead of baking, I will write about baking. More specifically, about vanilla. My book describes vanilla as “the equivalent of the C-major in music (for all you band nerds), the “mother hen of a recipe” and “the backbone of so many great creations.” I myself, have never used REAL vanilla, much less the actual bean. I buy imitation vanilla extract, because the real stuff is so expensive. (Now I know why.)

I thought, if I was going to get serious about baking, I must have vanilla beans, especially since I just read “chefs only use pure vanilla extract – and you should do the same.” about three seconds after I wrote the above sentence about imitation vanilla. She goes on to say “imitation vanilla extract, with its harsh, clearly fake flavor, will spoil whatever you put it into.” When I use it, I end up dumping in a ton more than what the recipe calls for because the flavor is so lacking. Whoops. Clearly, I am not a professional French chef, or any chef, for the matter. 

The beans are so expensive to buy (see here), about 7 pods for $10, I decided I’d fair better getting a plant and growing the beans myself. I looked at amazon.com for plants. I found one for $10 and one for $15. I was about five minutes away from buying one when I decided to do a little more research.

I typed “vanilla bean plant” into google and read that they are pollinated by hand, they have to be a certain length to flower (to pollinate) and they like warm, moist places. I figured I could pollinate (I am a science major after all), get it to grow and keep it in the bathroom under a plant light. I emailed the amazon seller and asked how long before it would flower, based on the size. “Two years” he says. Like that’s a reasonable time to wait… TWO YEARS.

I read more about pollination and learn the flowers bloom once a year, over the course of a month (if you are able to keep it happy and get it to bloom AT ALL), the blooms last a day (so you better be home to pollinate) and then the seeds will start to form. The seeds take 9 months to grow before you can pick them. Then it takes another 6 months to boil, sun-dry and cure them until, as my book says “they are plump, moist, and flexible”.

SO…..

FIRST, I must buy a plant, plant light and toothpicks (!) to pollinate…

IF I keep the plant alive for two years, long enough to get it to bloom…

IF I am home the day the blooms start opening…

IF I am able to successfully pollinate it…

THEN I must wait another 9 months (and continue to keep it alive) until I can harvest the seeds…

THEN I must spend 6 months rotating them into the warm sun and a little wooden box…

THEN I could possibly get ONE usable bean. THREE AND A HALF YEARS later.

And by THEN, I will have forgotten about my little French desserts cookbook and wonder “what the heck am I gonna do with a vanilla bean?”

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4 Responses to No butter, no eggs, definitely no vanilla.

  1. Tracie says:

    LOL! …don’t forget to figure the animals and riley into the factor.. you know one of them would eat it before you got to it.

  2. nayeli says:

    Some things I’ve discovered during my baking escapades:

    1. You can cook without eggs or butter…although I have yet to see when you can’t use either. For lighter delectables you are allowed to substitute 2 egg whites per egg (don’t try store bought egg whites though because they are pasteurized and will not gain the expansion properties of raw egg whites)…but seeing as you have no eggs at the moment maybe this could be a problem…what about having your own chickens? My parents did for a while but I hated the smell, and having to clean up…they are some dirty birds!

    2. Oil can be a good substitute for butter, but requires much less oil than butter. One of my friends is a Chef in Cairo and they use oil in baking more than butter.

    3. Easy trick anytime you are required to temper eggs….beat these well before you place in water bath…then it doesn’t take as long and they will not scramble 🙂 this has worked for me every time!

    4. I cut the sugar in half and substitute half with ideal an erythriol based sugar which is “zero” calories and doesn’t give that nasty splenda after taste. So far, no one can tell a difference.

    3. I grew up where vanilla grew naturally so I’ve always used real vanilla…to me, it has a more delicate flavor than artificial and using the scrapings inside the pod (especially in ice cream) gives things a nice added texture. I’ve been experimenting with almond and cherry extract…I’ve had good turn outs as well. 🙂

    Happy baking! 🙂

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