Vanilla offers one of the comforting and distinctive flavors in the world. The aroma is favored not only for baking, but for aromatherapy, candles, and perfumes, among others. Vanilla is available for cooking and baking in a variety of forms, including whole bean, vanilla extract, vanilla paste, and vanilla powder.
The powdered version is probably the least commonly available form, but it offers unique and useful properties that home cooks will appreciate. While the heat of many dishes will diminish the flavor of liquid vanilla extract, vanilla powder tends to retain the flavor much better, as there is no alcohol -a key ingredient in extracts- to evaporate. It also works well in dishes that won't benefit from added liquid. It is a useful ingredient in baked goods, liquids, and cream based dishes, dissolving easily and imparting a strong flavor.
Vanilla powder is actually available in two different forms, and may be labeled differently depending on the manufacturer. It may be ground vanilla, simply vanilla beans that have been dried and cured, and ground into a fine powder, or a sweetened vanilla powder, which is a very fine mixture of various types of sugars, such as dextrose or sucrose, and mixed with vanilla extract. (This is not the same as vanilla sugar).
Pure ground vanilla is much more potent than vanilla extract, and cooks should use about half the amount of extract called for in most recipes. The powdered variety made with sugars should be used with the same measurements as liquid extract. All vanilla powders dissolve easily in liquids, and are ideal for adding to coffee, cocoa, tea, and other liquid based dishes. It is important for consumers to check the ingredient label to find out which version is being purchased, as quality and price may vary greatly.
For a quick treat, vanilla powder can be sprinkled on fresh fruit or toast, and added to coffee and oatmeal. When cooking or baking, it easily mixes with liquids without lumping and adds flavor to breads, cakes, cookies, frostings, and meringues, as well as the traditional cream based desserts such as ice cream and custards. When using in icings, vanilla powder is less likely to turn the color from white to the natural ivory that is taken on when using vanilla extract.
For the home cook who finds himself stuck with a few beans which have dried up from disuse- or just in want of vanilla powder, this delicacy can be created at home by running dried beans through a home coffee grinder. The drier the bean, the more powder-like the result. Leaving the bean out in the open to further dry out may help if it is too moist to grind.
Vanilla powder may be difficult to locate at the local grocery store, but it is often available online, from specialty cooking shops, or specialty grocery stores. It is available in traditional and organic as well. It should be stored the same way vanilla beans are kept- in a cool, dry location, with a tight seal to prevent moisture intrusion. Vanilla powder is a tasty, versatile treat that cooks can use in a myriad of ways to impart the unique mellow, creamy flavor of vanilla.
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