Hye Thyme Cafe: REVIEW - Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

REVIEW - Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever

I absolutely LOVE vanilla!  Whether it's a candle, perfume, lotion, cookie, cocktail, or oatmeal, I'm all over it, so I was very excited at the prospect of reviewing PURE VANILLA IRRESISTIBLE RECIPES and ESSENTIAL TECHNIQUES by Shauna Sever.  If that name sounds familiar, it's because Shauna is also the author of Marshmallow Madness and writes the popular dessert blog Piece of Cake.  If you love vanilla, and really, who doesn't love vanilla, you need to add this cookbook to your wish list!

My only criticism is that not every recipe has a corresponding photograph.  I can honestly say that, photo or not, there isn't one recipe in this collection that I'm not looking forward to trying.  I actually thought there was ONE recipe I wouldn't want to make - the Vanilla Egg Cream.  That was only until I realized it didn't actually contain eggs.  So it's official; I'll eventually be trying every recipe in this book!

Not only are the recipes great, but Shauna starts out by educating us on the origins of vanilla and all of the different varieties and forms that can be used.  I have certainly used my share of vanilla extract and vanilla beans over the years, even the occasional vanilla powder and paste, but something I have never come across before is ground vanilla - which includes the pod itself.  I'm particularly curious about that now.

Something else I was curious about but hadn't gotten around to looking into is the alcohol used for making your own vanilla extract at home.  I have made it a few times using vodka, having seen a bottle at a home-goods store with a few vanilla beans in it and reading the attached directions to split the beans and fill the bottle with vodka, leaving it to infuse over time.  Since then, I have noticed some Facebook chatter among friends discussing making it with rum rather than vodka.  That got me wondering if my preference for Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla was actually made with bourbon??  Nope - Bourbon, now known as Reunion, is one of the three islands off the East Coast of Africa (Madagascar, Comoros, and Reunion), where up to 60% of the World's vanilla is produced.

Shauna leads us through a brief history of vanilla, beginning with the Totonac Indians, whom the Aztecs discovered as far back as 1519 had already been using vanilla for many years.  In addition to its history, Shauna also enlightens us as to the process of creating the vanilla that we know and love, all of which seems to take a bit of the sting out of some staggering price tags.  You'll have to pick up a copy to read about that yourself.  It's very interesting.

The first recipe I decided to try was Shauna's Vanilla Snaps, which does not include a photograph.  For anyone who knows me, you know I would normally skip right over a recipe with no photo.  Since I can't actually taste the writer's work product, I want to at least know what it's supposed to look like when I'm done!  I made an exception for these and was very glad that I did, although I will admit that when I make them again - and I will make them again - I will include even more vanilla.  

VANILLA SNAPS (Shauna Sever)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg white, at room temp
1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil 

  • Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats; have a third baking sheet ready for when it's time to freeze the cookie dough.
  • Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together butter, sugar, and vanilla extract on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add egg white and oil and continue beating until smooth, about 1 minute more.  Reduce speed to low and gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing smooth.
  • Line a work surface with a large sheet of parchment paper.  Turn dough out onto parchment, pat it into a disk, and top with another sheet of parchment.  With a rolling pin, roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick.  Leaving the dough between the sheets of parchment, transfer to the third baking sheet.  Freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.
  • With a 1 1/2-inch round cutter, cut dough into circles, placing them 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.  Place sheets in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.
  • Bake until cookies are golden on the edges, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking.  Let cookies cool for 1 minute, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

The recipe above is as written.  Rather than bothering with a third tray (I've had a few discolor from going in the freezer), I just slid the dough into the freezer between the sheets of parchment.  I also don't have a stand mixer now, so I made them by hand.  Although I didn't actually do this, because the dough is so soft, if you want to re-roll your scraps, you might want to re-chill it before cutting out the new batch.

These cookies were both "snappy" and delicious, and they proved dangerous for me to have around the house because it's usually at night when I'm looking to snack on something crunchy. I certainly don't need to be munching on cookies late at night!  Shauna uses these cookies in the base of one of her cheesecake recipes, as well as in the crust for her Vanilla Cream Pie.  As much as I like a traditional graham cracker crust for cheesecake, I do tend to lean more toward ginger or lemon snaps, so now I can use vanilla snaps too.  Love it!!

As usual, a big thanks to the folks at Quirk Books for providing me with a review copy, which has provided me with lots of inspiration and ideas. And thanks to Shauna for the great recipes!

REVIEW - Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever
REVIEW - Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever
REVIEW - Pure Vanilla by Shauna Sever

Here's a teaser sampling of the recipes you'll find in Shauna's latest hit:

  • Big Mama Vanilla Cheesecake
  • Vanilla Bean Dutch Baby
  • Malted White Hot Chocolate
  • Honey-Vanilla Granola Clusters
  • Cherry-Vanilla Shortbread Cake Squares
  • Warm Vanilla-Rum Rice Pudding
  • Vanilla Nougat Candy Bar Bites
  • Lemon-Vanilla Dream Bars
  • Vanilla-Caramel Semifreddo
  • Candied Vanilla Popcorn
  • Golden Pear-Vanilla Jam
Which will be first on your to-do list???

And if you haven't already picked up a copy, as soon as you're done making everything in this book, be sure to check out Marshmallow Madness for a sticky-gooey good time!

Quirk Books provided me with a review copy of the book, as well as the cover photo, but all opinions expressed are strictly my own.

ISBN: 9781594745966
Book Dimensions: 7 1/2 x 8 1/2
Page Count: 180
Relase Date: November 6, 2012

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