Last fall, Kelly (of KellyBakes) and I made homemade vanilla extract. We went in together on a bulk purchase of 4 different types of vanilla beans and then blogged about our extract-making. Our plan was bottle some of our vanilla bounty for holiday gifts and bake together (using part of the remainder) to see if we could discern a taste difference between the various types of vanilla beans. The vanillathon finally happened this past weekend, and while the results may not make a good New York Post headline, they will fascinate the bakers among us.
I did try a taste test on my own before our joint effort. For a group of expert taste testers, including Domenica Marchetti and Aviva Goldfarb, I made 2 batches (each) of Vanilla Cake and traditional madeleines from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From my home to yours. I used different vanilla extracts for each batch and asked the testers if they could differentiate between the batches. None of us could. I would have called that result disappointing, except that the baked goods were quite delicious and even if we could not discern one high quality extract from another, the vanilla flavors were uniformly excellent.
This weekend’s vanillathon began with a jaunt through the National Arboretum; after all, there is no better inspiration than Mother Nature at her azalea and apple blossom best. After a side trip to Spike Mendelsohn’s We the Pizza (for very good, but not superior pizza and excellent freshly made fruit sodas) to fortify ourselves for the hard work ahead, we set to baking.