My fascination with vanilla flavoring goes back to early childhood. I can remember helping my mom bake cakes or cookies, and always begging to open and measure the vanilla extract. I spent more time smelling it and imagining how good it must taste than I did actually measuring it. Mom patiently explained on multiple occasions that the alcohol in extracts were important for good flavoring, but not so much for good taste, at least not straight from the bottle. I was really sure she was wrong, and finally convinced her to let me taste it. After a long anticipatory whiff of the aroma, I poured a little vanilla extract into a teaspoon. My facial expression when I tasted it immediately prompted Mom’s laughter, along with a well-deserved “I told you so!” We also ate a lot of vanilla bean ice cream when I was growing up, and I was addicted to the flavor in those tiny bean specks.
I was intrigued by Sonoma Syrup Co.’s combination of vanilla extract and vanilla bean seeds in their Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”. Madagascar bourbon and Tahitian vanilla beans are the foundation for “Crush”. This small batch product is made from beans ripened on their vines in the South Pacific, then carefully cured and shipped to California for artisan blending. I have been using a quality Madagascar bourbon vanilla for several years, so I was anxious to compare the products. “Crush” easily won the scent assessment, although I certainly don’t have a professionally trained nose. My regular brand had more of an alcoholic edge to it, while “Crush” was mellow. I could easily detect more complex aromas in “Crush”, I’m guessing from the blend of different beans. Taste test? Thank you, but no. (See previous paragraph.) The better test is how the extract performs in use.
Because I wanted something simple that would allow the vanilla flavor to shine, I chose Mom’s classic boiled vanilla custard recipe. Whether it was the base for her meringue-topped banana pudding, the filling for my favorite cream puffs, or just served solo as my dad loved it, this custard has always been one of my comfort desserts.
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup flour
2 cups milk
4 egg yolks, beaten
2 teaspoons Sonoma Syrup Co. Vanilla Bean Extract “Crush”
Mix the first 3 ingredients together in a heavy saucepan. Stir in the milk (I use a whisk). Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil, then boil one minute. Remove from heat.
Pour half of the hot milk mixture into a bowl with the beaten egg yolks, beating well. Blend the egg mixture back into the remaining custard in the saucepan, return to heat and bring just to a boil.
Cool slightly, then stir in the vanilla extract. Pour into dessert bowls and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard. Serve warm, or refrigerate and serve cold.
The result was everything I had hoped for. The vanilla flavor was warm and mellow, and more intense than custard made with my regular extract. I’ve officially made the switch to “Crush”!
As you might guess, Sonoma Syrup Co. is based in California wine country. Karin Campion established the company in 2002, adopting the wine-crafting principle of “terroir”, understanding the special characteristics of agricultural products that result from geography, geology and climate interacting with plant genetics. Choosing exceptional ingredients and developing artisanal blends in the company’s extracts, flavored syrups, bar mixers and cheese drizzles has netted multiple industry awards and a very nice list of retailers. You can buy the products directly from Sonoma Syrup Co.’s website, or choose from other online and traditional retailers. The extract gift set (almond, vanilla, and lemon) available from the company website would delight bakers on your holiday gift list!