Monday, February 18, 2008

Vanilla Bean Loaves

Hello February! January, where did you go? Things have actually been bubbling away here in the Veggie Kitchen, but a number of factors have collided to make my sharing of them somewhat more challenging. First of all, our computer has begun a slow descent into the depths it shall not resurface from. It is old, as computers go, and has begun to struggle to handle the demands I place upon it. It tends to get stuck between wesbites, churning away desperately trying to get somewhere, but stuck in blankness. The other trick of which I am so fond is randomly closing and opening windows on me. That's fun for everyone involved. This growing technological crisis, plus an increase to my work schedule has meant less time spent both on the computer and in the kitchen (at least during the week).

Still, I hope the backlog of pictures and recipes I have will enable to me to move forwards, dragging my unwilling technology partner as I go. Today's offering is a delightful poundcake encrusted with a delicious vanilla-y sugary crust. I made the recipe as written, although I did not take the time to make the vanilla sugar called for in the recipe. Ms. Hesser's instructions are to place a vanilla pod into a pound of sugar and allow to sit for several days. Easy enough to do, but not fast enough for my "I want to bake this cake NOW!" mood experienced on Saturday. Between the tablespoon of vanilla also in the cake, not to mention frequent applications of a vanilla steeped simple syrup to the cooling cake, I did not find this cake lacked vanilla-ness in any way. But, if you are a purist then I suppose a little vanilla sugar will never hurt.

M. and I both liked the crunchy crust created by applying the sugar syrup to the cooling cake. That stuff got everywhere, but the results were worth the sticky fingers (and tables, and utensils, and books and....). I used all of it (although I will admit the last application was primarily dumping the syrup onto the cake because I'd grown a bit weary of delicately applying it with a brush). The cakes were baked on Saturday, sampled and then refrigerated in multiple layers of Saran Wrap. Sunday's tasted was denser but still tasted fresh and delicious. This is a dense and sweet cake, a little definitely goes a long way. Small portions are key to not suffering a tremendous sugar high! But, served with a touch of whipped cream, this was a delicious and easy dessert. Since the recipe makes 2 loaves, this is a perfect cake to make for yourself and a friend (or in my case, M.'s coworkers).
Vanilla Bean Loaves
Cooking For Mr Latte by Amanda Hesser

3 sticks unsalted butter, room temp.
2 1/2 cups vanilla sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 large eggs, room temp.
3 cups All Purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

for the syrup:
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped

1. Heavily butter two 8 x 4 inch loaf pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy and pale. Scrape the vanilla bean and flick the seeds into the mixer, along with the vanilla extract and eggs. Beat to mix.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter mixture and mix just until smooth. Take the bowl off the mixture and scrap the bottom with a spatula and fold the batter a few times. Divide the batter between the two buttered pans. Bake for 30 minutes, then rotate the pans. Bake an additional 25 to 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out almost clean.
3. While the loaves are baking, prepare the syrup. In a small pan dissolve the sugar in one cup water over medium heat. Add the vanilla beans and stir a little so the seeds and fragrance disperse. When the sugar mixture is completely dissolved, remove from heat.
4. When the loaves are done, cool for 10 minutes on racks and then turn them out of the pans onto racks over parchment paper. Brush generously with the vanilla syrup on all sides and tops and bottoms. Brush a couple of times as the loaves cool. These cakes store well. They may be wrapped and frozen.

2 fragrant cakes

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