Cooking with Cookie or Vanilla Extract Part II

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But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Robert Burns

Oh Robbie Burns, you smooth talking Scot you, you’re singing my song. Or better yet, this is the story of my life. I suppose you could say that my life is a single strand of small cliches strung together over the course of almost 54 years….with my time in the kitchen being no exception…hence the best laid plains of mice and men…or actually the best laid plans of Cookie….

I love to cook and I’ve written a previous post on the art of baking verses cooking— with my inclinations leaning more toward the cooking end the spectrum as this is the area that allows me to be most creative and not as dependent upon the chemical reactions of fats, sugars, yeasts, heat, etc… My pilopsophy is add a little of this and a little of that…and if that doesn’t do the trick… add something else—and when in doubt, perhaps, throw it out.

So I thought it may be nice to have a bit of a diversion today…nothing too heavy, historical or controversial…something more along the lines of taste and of tasting good. And mind you that doesn’t necessarily mean uber healthy rabbit food…..but homemade, perhaps homegrown and soul satisfying….

Do you remember the post Vanilla Extract or is Cookie a Lush…written back in May? Well, it was time to taste test the maturation of the alcohol and beans…ummmmmm

Here the bottles were back in May ready to head to the dark corners of a forgotten cabinet.DSCN0069

and here they are today…bronzed with time….
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I don’t know what I was expecting. Heady vanilla goodness? Sweet, luscious and decadent?
I pulled the bottles out of their dark hiding place, the tomb, aka cabinet, where they’ve been allowed to “do their thing” for these past several months. They have been pulled out from time to time in order to get a healthy little shake—always fighting the desire to pop the cork for a quick whiff of that heavenly amalgamation of vanilla and alcohol—in this case your choice of either vodka, bourbon, honey bourbon, spiced dark rum, Tahitian beans or Madagascar beans…this is hard core extract making.

I pulled out a little silver teaspoon–only the best for this virgin tasting. I placed all the bottles on the counter, and deiced which one I wanted to “test” first. Ooooo, a little shiver ran down my spine, my first decanting…too exciting! I give the bottle of choice one last shake, pop the cork, and I’m suddenly greeted by the unmistakable scent of vanilla which fills the air, but there is also a faint sterile whiff of alcohol….hummmmmm…..

I pour a little of the glistening brown liquid into the spoon, I raise it to my lips and let it fill my mouth. At first millisecond, there is a warm sensation, then suddenly…. AAAGGGHHHH, cough, cough, cough…..yewh…oh God, do I swallow, do I spit…AAGGGHHH…hot, hot, fire….oh dear lord, oh my gosh what was I thinking… a cordial, a cloyingly sweet liquor? AAAGGHHH… what’s in my mouth is on fiiiirrrreeee!!

Now granted I am not one to drink my liquor straight. I’ve just never been that kind of girl. I may be a southern girl who grew up at THE University of Georgia back in the day, who may have had my share of bourbon and coke–of which I no longer seem to desire as I think I had my bait of that oh those many (35ish) years ago…whoops,digressing I do go…. Now give me a little tonic and a lime, a splash of this or that… but straight, no thank you….

My dad has been a Scotch drinker his entire life. One Christmas I spent the most money I’d ever spent on a gift for my dad and that was simply a single barrel, 25 year aged bottle of Scotch from the Speyside area of Scotland. He drinks it neat, or over ice and it’s usually a double to a triple…geeze… I thought there really had to be something to this Scotch business. Sophisticated men (and I’ve only known one woman to do so) have always seemed to drink Scotch. There is an air of sophistication associated with it—tweeds, crystal glasses, driving caps and delightful accents. The whole mist of the moors mystique. I stupidly think that I too need to add this to my repertoire.

Big terrible mistake!!! One taste of Scotch was enough to last me a life time. Liquid burnt peat, that’s all it is. It’s a fiery taste of burnt rubbish. They say you have to acquire the taste for Scotch…if I have to practice to enjoy tasting it, forget it—I’m a love at first taste sort of gal. But don’t tell that to a Scotch drinker. No wee dram here—no sir. Give me my antispetic vodka, the tofu of alcohol –meaning it’ll take on the flavor of whatever you may pair it with—in this case, vanilla beans.

I taste the bourbon extact, the honey bourbon extract, the spiced rum extrat, and the vodka extract—all with similar flair and fire. Ugghh… I pull out a store bought bottle of extract from the cabinet and give it a go just to compare… am I on the right tract or I have created poison?!

Thankfully– the store bought has similar characteristics of my concoctions. Fiery alcohol with some sort of spicy note….just call me the sommeliers of extract.

Time for the true test…to bake a little something in order to see if these bottles are ripe, or still need a little more time to cure…….

Hummm…I need to do something quick as my son and his fiancee were coming over for supper. The need for something streamline nixed the bourbon and rum based extracts as I wasn’t thinking chocolate—I know, who doesn’t think chocolate, but it was a hot day, I needed something light.

Ahhh, meringues…brillant

The smaller meringues, the Boccone Dolce or sweet mouthful in Italian– or even the more showy and larger cousin the Pavolva—are the quintessential vehicle for visually stunning deserts…billowy crisp outer shells with a soft chewy marshmellowesque interior. These are sold, a bit larger than what I make, by bakeries all over Italy and France as a quick pick up go to desert show stopper. One may fill them with mounds of decadent whipped creams and luscious fruits…which is more along the traditional lines of a Pavlova or they may be filled with your either your choice of sorbet and fruit or ice-cream complete with shaved chocolate bits, drizzled with chocolate or caramel sauce and sprinkled with a few roasted nuts or toasted coconut, it will appear as if you have labored for hours.

They are easy to make as long as you follow a few precautions—humidity being the first real kill joy. The other being any unsuspecting egg yolk that drips down into the bowl of whites as you’re separating the eggs. Here is a quick recipe for Boccone Dolce or simply put filled meringue shells:
you will need to”
— preheat your oven to 225ᵒ F
—Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (I also spray the parchment with Baker’s Joy)
— 3 eggs separated, allowed to come to room temperature (I use 4 and I find that if I crack them first
separating the eggs then allowing for the whites to reach room temps, the shells are not as prone to
shatter sending small shards into the whites)
—a small bit of cream of tartar 1/4 teaspoon–remember I don’t measure, I just give a little
sprinkle)
–3/4 cup granulated sugar
–1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (here I am a bit more liberal–I use a splash, more like a teaspoon and
a bit more
–Using a hand held mixer I begin whipping the whites and cream of tarter fist just still the whites get a little foamy. Continuing mixing, I slowly add, a little at a time, allowing for it to be incorporated, the sugar. Still mixing I add the vanilla. I mix until the whites are think, shiny, and can hold up stiff peaks if I pull up on the mixer.
–I then gently scoop out 6 mounds onto the parchment lined baking pan. Using the back of a spoon I gently form a nest by hollowing out an indention in the center of each mound.
–Pop the the sheet into the oven and bake for about and hour and a half.
–Once time is up–turn the oven off, leaving the meringues in the oven for at least one more hour as this dries them out.
(now I have found that my meringues cook best in my regular oven verses the convection oven as they tend to cook too quickly-the meringues should not brown but remain a lovely pale off white. You want a nice crisp exterior and a soft mellowly interior.
–here is where you can be creative filling them with decadent goodness topped by more of the same.

These particular meringues cooked and cooled while I prepared supper. As I didn’t have ample time to pull out all the stops for these little puppies, I simply filled them with peach ice cream, topping them with freshly cut peaches. I have been known to sauté the peaches in a tad of butter, sugar, cinnamon, a squirt of lemon till a nice peachy syrup develops ladling this over the ice cream and shells….
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The vanilla was spot on, I could actually taste a very nice hint of warm vanilla laced throughout every heavenly bite of meringue–boccone dolce –truly

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