This is a two-part blog. In a week, I’ll describe the perfect cake. Perfect. Rich, eggy vanilla layers with a devastating chocolate buttercream frosting. It’s the cake of your dreams.

But to get the cake, you need to make a couple of what are called “baking condiments.” An intensified vanilla extract, and some vanilla-scented superfine sugar. If you make these two vanilla goodies tomorrow, the will be ready in four or five days. And that’s when the cake recipe will come. You’ll have to have patience, trust me, and just get to work.

Is it worth it? Brian loves cake and I am not a dessert person. But I made this one, cut him a slice, took a bite, cut a slide for me, too. That’s progress.

These condiment recipes, and the cake recipe, and the frosting recipe are all from a gem of a cookbook: Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson. Published in 2002, I’ve had two copies of this book sitting in my library and I always planned to devote time to the recipes inside. What can I say? I’ve wasted 8 years. Now I intend to catch up.

Intensified Vanilla Extract

Lisa describes this as “punched-up extract” that is perfect for recipes that call for vanilla. She says it provides a “dramatic and fluid jolt of vanilla goodness.” She’s right. It’s a brilliant way to achieve intensified vanilla flavor.

Yield: 2 ounces

Ingredients:

  • Half a small, pliant vanilla bean, split to expose the tiny seeds, using a sharp paring knife
  • 1 2-ounce bottle of vanilla

Preparation:

Holding one end, dip the split vanilla bean several times in the vanilla extract to release some of the seeks into the exact. Bend the bean in half to shorten it, then slip it into the bottle. Cap the bottle tightly, shake several times, and store on a cool, dark pantry shelf for 4-5 days before using. This mega-vanilla extract is best used within 6 months.

Vanilla-Scented Superfine Sugar

Lisa describes this as a “congenial” ingredient that works with other flavors — except she maintains citrus. I take her at her word, but I do wonder about how this intensified sugar would work in lemon cookies.

This recipe for superfine sugar is needed for the forthcoming cake. You can do the same thing with granulated sugar, where Lisa suggests 3 vanilla beans and five pounds of sugar.

Yield: 3 pounds

Ingredients:

  • 2 moist, aromatic vanilla beans, split down the center to expose the tiny seeds, using a small, sharp knife
  • 3 pounds of superfine sugar

Preparation:

Open up the beans slightly by using a small, flexible palette knife.

Layer the vanilla beans in the sugar. Put about one-third of the sugar in a canister. Drop in one of the split vanilla beans. Fill with half of the remaining sugar, and place in the remaining bean. Add the balance of the sugar. Cover the container tightly.

Put the sugar on a pantry shelf, or in a cool place on the kitchen countertop, preferable away from directly sunlight for “curing.” After 2 days, carefully spoon up the contents of the container to shift vanilla beans, cover, and the beans flavor the sugar for at least 2 more days.

Over time, owing to the moisture content of the vanilla beans, the sugar will be less free-flowing. The sugar will compact in the container as time goes on. To use the flavored sugar, crush or break it up as necessary with a wooden spoon or spatula, and flick aside the vanilla beans when scooping it out. If the sugar is very lumpy, strain it through a medium- to large-mesh stainless steel sieve before measuring.

When the vanilla beans have given up most of their moistness (in about 4 months), they will turn slightly firm and bit splintery. He time actually depends on how supple they were initially and the ambient temperature of your kitchen and storage area. Although the beans are a bit less perfumed now, they can be steeped in a liquid, with excellent results. Heat the beans along with milk, cream or heavy cream when making a custard or pastry cream for that extra bounce of vanilla taste, then remove and discard the beans.

Source: Baking by Flavor by Lisa Yockelson