Favorite Things – Day 1


I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about the things that I covet the most in the kitchen that a home baker could use as well. So I decided to do a Top 5 kinda thing, ala Rob Gordon, and post about each thing through out the week.

So my first favorite thing is…..

Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Vanilla

Let me tell you my story about this vanilla. So for years, I’ve been using whatever vanilla I could find on sale until I discovered that Smart & Final and Costco sell big bottles of vanilla extract for cheap, like $6. So I was using that for a while for my home baking projects. And then when I started moving towards a business, I wanted to use a better quality vanilla. But I thought, isn’t it really all the same stuff? How can you tell anyway? So I found a small bottle of Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Vanilla extract at Home Goods and decided to try it.

WOW. I could immediately tell the difference. The smell of it is sweet and seductive without an overpowering alcohol tingle. As soon as I poured it in the batter, I could smell it (which is something I didn’t smell with the other cheaper brands). And the quality really came through in my buttercreams. My vanilla buttercream tasted like homemade vanilla ice cream. Mmmmm.

You can buy this vanilla in the bake-a-little size 8-oz bottle or bakes-a-lot 32-oz bottle (the size I use). But honestly, vanilla doesn’t spoil so I say splurge 🙂 Maybe it will encourage you to bake more!

Here is a good recipe that lets the vanilla really shine through:

Vanilla Biscotti
(adapted from King Arthurs Flour)

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter
2/3 cup (4 3/4 ounces) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Madagascar vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) All-Purpose Flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line one large (about 18″ x 13″) baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and baking powder until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Beat in the eggs; the batter may look slightly curdled. At low speed of your mixer, add the flour, stirring until smooth; the dough will be sticky.

Plop the dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Shape it into a log that’s about 14″ long x 2 ½” wide x ¾” thick. Straighten the log, and smooth its top and sides; a wet spatula or wet bowl scraper works well here.

Bake the dough for 25 minutes. Remove it from the oven, and allow it to cool on the pan anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes; just work it into the schedule of whatever else you’re doing in the kitchen. Using a spray bottle filled with room-temperature water, lightly but thoroughly spritz the log, making sure to cover the sides as well as the top. Softening the crust just this little bit will make slicing the biscotti much easier.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Wait another 5 minutes, then use a serrated knife to cut the log crosswise into 1⁄2″ to 3⁄4″ slices. Or cut the biscotti on the diagonal—for fewer, longer biscotti. As you’re slicing, be sure to cut straight up and down, perpendicular to the pan; if you cut unevenly, biscotti may be thicker at the top than the bottom, and they’ll topple over during their second bake.

Set the biscotti on edge on the prepared baking sheet. Return the biscotti to the oven, and bake them for 25 to 30 minutes, till they feel very dry and are beginning to turn golden. They’ll still feel a tiny bit moist in the very center, if you break off a piece; but they’ll continue to dry out as they cool. Remove the biscotti from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool.

Yield: 3 dozen 3 1⁄2″ biscotti, when cut crosswise. Or about 1 1/2 dozen biscotti cut on the diagonal; the exact yield will depend upon just how much of a slant you cut them on.

  1. I've been wanting to try this vanilla so I'm glad to hear you've tested it. Its hard to spend the big bucks on vanilla if you're not sure it will be good or not.

  2. Jenny! – Surfas sells it for a great price. The cheapest I've been able to find for the 32oz bottle.

    Juanita – I have the vanilla bean paste too! I love using it in my vanilla buttercream. it smells so good!

  3. My favourite stuff too! You should also try their vanilla bean paste – divine!

  4. Wow, I should look out for some now that I'm baking so much. The costco stuff seemed ok, but they seemed to stop selling it and the smart and final is nasty so I'll have to find a store down here that sells it.

  5. the first time i used this vanilla i found it at Ross for like 5.99. bought it and loved it!


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