One of the most important ingredients in my pantry in "Vanilla." I have a variety of brands that I use (depending on what I am making) and let me start with a disclaimer, I'm not promoting any of them. The selection of vanilla extract you use is like selecting your underwear or deodorant, it is truly a personal thing. I can remember a pastry chef at the Hyatt Regency in Dearborn, Michigan who carried his vanilla around in a small vile in his pocket ( I know, but he did it!). I later learned it was nothing more than A & P vanilla extract with a bit of 100 Proof Bourbon (Old Grand Dad) added, it was what made his baked goods unmistakable.

There is no mistake we all have out trade secrets and there is really nothing like tasting something and not being able to figure our exactly what the dish is made with. Doesn't it just make you crazy? You know it's something familiar, but just can't put your finger on it.

A few years ago I introduced my home-based baking class to Ronald Reginald's Melipone Mexican Vanilla and included a brief lesson on the fine art of selecting a good vanilla extract. Look I know this products has a number of flavorings, but it is probably one of the more complex vanilla mixtures around and for making cakes and cookies it is second to none. (...in my opinion!)

Few bakers take time or have the time to seek out exceptional products, and the issue of being able to secure them on a consistent basis sometime comes into question. When seeking out the perfect vanilla extract consider tasting it in milk (if you're not lactose intolerant), add 1 teaspoon to a 6-ounce class of cold milk; try pouring 1 teaspoon over a scoop of "vanilla" ice cream or place several 3-4 drops on a cube of sugar.

What to pay attention to:

The aroma of the vanilla. It should be rich, delicate and pleasant.
*** remember a smoky oder means it was cut with java beans, since Tahitian beans are fragrant and sweet.

The color of the vanilla should be carefully examined. Always pour the vanilla on a pure white plate.
The color should be a clear, rich amber colored, no specks of vanilla bean unless the actual bean is in the bottle.
***lesser qualities have a murky, clouded brown color.

Last, there should never be an aftertaste. Like a good Cognac, the taste should be smooth as silk.

What's your favorite vanilla extract? Inquiring minds want to know...

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