Oh how I love everything about Vanilla. It will always have my vote amongst the endless list of flavourings, evoking happy memories of childhood glee; by which I mean finger-licking the remainder of sponge mixture from our Mason Cash bowl. Even when a new kid on the block emerges with a spotlight moment, Vanilla will smile sweetly with tenacity. It brings a toothsome note to any month of the year whether it’s a comforting creme anglais served with an abundance of poached autumn fruits and a blanket of ‘crumbly’ crumble, or a sunshine pud such as summer berry pannacotta delicately flecked with minute dots of vanilla seeds.
Dependant on the nature of the recipe, I find myself reaching for the vanilla bean paste on numerous occasions rather than the more familiar extract. Eitherway, you can’t go wrong with the brand Nielson-Massey whose growing availability is impressive, within easy reach on most supermarket baking shelves.
Most of these desserts have a convenient prep time of 10 minutes only, so less time in the kitchen, generously giving more to indulge….
Sugared cinnamon pear tarts with vanilla seed syrup
Makes 9 tarts
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20-25 minutes
1 x 375g ready rolled puff pastry
4 medium pears, cored and sliced thinly
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
25g unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
For the cinnamon sugar:
1 tbsp caster sugar
pinch of cinnamon powder
1. Preheat oven to 200C/fan 180C. Roll out the pastry and cut nine equal sized rectangles. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with baking paper.
2. Divide the pears between the pastry sheets, leaving a 2cm border around the edge of the pastry. Curl up the edges slightly to prevent any juices escaping.
3. Make the vanilla syrup by placing the caster sugar and 50ml water in a small pan. Bring to the boil and simmer on a medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the pears are tender and the pastry is golden and crisp. Meanwhile, mix together the sugar and cinnamon powder. When the tarts are ready, remove from the oven and whilst they are still hot, finish with an even sprinkling of the cinnamon sugar. Delicious served warm with vanilla ice-cream or creme fraiche.
Rhubarb and vanilla yoghurt fool
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
400g rhubarb, roughly chopped into short lengths
2-3 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
250g greek yoghurt
1-2 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
250ml double cream
2 tbsp pistachios, roughly chopped
1. Heat the rhubarb and sugar together in a pan with a splash of water and bring to a gentle simmer. Occasionally give the pan a shake to stop any rhubarb sticking to the pan and cook until the fruit softens. Stir in the vanilla and allow to cool. Puree the rhubarb in a food processor.
Put the yoghurt in a bowl and mix in the icing sugar until smooth. Gently whisk in the cream (it will thicken as you go so do not over do it). Ripple through the rhubarb pulp and spoon into pretty glasses or bowls to serve. Finish with a few chopped pistachios on top; made even better served with shortbread!
Passionfruit and strawberry meringues with vanilla seed cream
Prep: 20 minutes, plus cooling
Cook: 45 minutes
Makes 12-14 meringues
You will need: 2 baking sheets, lined with baking parchment
Do ahead: the meringues will keep in an airtight container for several days when kept in a cool, dark place
4 large egg whites
large pinch cream of tartar
125g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g icing sugar, sifted
6 passionfruit, seeds and pulp removed
150g strawberries, sliced into quarters
For the vanilla seed cream:
200ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tbsp icing sugar, sifted
1. Preheat the oven to 140C, fan 130C. In a large, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar to soft peaks, then slowly whisk in the caster sugar, a quarter at a time, until the mixture is thick and glossy.
2. Spoon a third of the egg mixture into a separate bowl and beat in the vanilla extract. Using a metal spoon, carefully fold this back into the rest of the egg mixture, then gently fold in the sifted icing sugar too.
3. Spoon 2 tbsps of the meringue mixture onto the prepared baking trays and place them in the oven before lowering the oven temperature completely before removing. (overnight is ideal)
4. To make the vanilla cream, whisk the double cream with the vanilla bean paste and icing sugar until soft peaks form. Serve the meringues with the passionfruit pulp, strawberries and vanilla cream.
Vanilla creme brulee
Prep 10 minutes, plus chilling
Cook 40 minutes
You will need: 6 x small oven-proof dishes
450ml double cream
150ml whole milk
1tsp vanilla bean paste
50g golden caster sugar, plus an extra 2-3 tbsp for the topping
6 medium egg yolks
1. Preheat oven to 180C, fan 160C. Bring the cream and milk just to the boil in a saucepan with the vanilla paste. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, then pour on the hot cream whilst continuously whisking.
2. Strain the custard into the ramekins and place them all into a large deep-sided roasting tin. Cover each loosely with foil, making a hole in the centre for steam to escape. Make a bain-marie by pouring hot water from the kettle into the tin to halfway up the side of the ramekins.
3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the custards are just barely set in the centre (check after 25 minutes). Remove the ramekins from the oven and dispose of the water. Take off the foil and cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Cover each custard with clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 2 hours, or until needed.
4. When ready to serve, cover each custard with a thin layer of caster sugar using the back of a large spoon. Sprinkle with a little water to just dampen the surface and caramelise using a cook’s blow torch (or for 4-5 minutes under a very hot grill) until all the sugar has melted and turned a lovely golden colour.
5. Serve when the brulee is firm, or within an hour or two.
Chocolate mini vanilla eclairs
Prep: 30 minutes, plus chilling
Cook: 40 minutes
You will need: a large non-stick baking sheet, lightly oiled or lined with baking parchment.
For the pastry:
60g unsalted butter, cut into small squares
75ml whole milk
60g plain flour
2 medium eggs, lightly whisked
1-2 drops vanilla extract
For the vanilla custard filling:
250ml whole milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
5 medium egg yolks, lightly whisked
75g caster sugar
1 tbsp plain flour
2 tsp cornflour
For the dark chocolate glaze:
100ml double cream
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate (70%), chopped
25g unsalted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 220C, fan 200C. To make the buns, heat the milk, butter and 50ml water very gently in a small saucepan until all the butter has melted. Meanwhile, sift the flour into a bowl and add a pinch of salt, then increase the heat and bring the liquid to the boil. As soon as it starts to boil, remove from the heat and beat in the flour with a wooden spoon for 3-4 minutes back on a low heat, until the mixture is smooth and glossy, and leaves the sides of the pan.
2. Remove from the heat and beat in the vanilla extract and the eggs, a little at a time. Continue to beat for another 3-4 minutes to a smooth, shiny dough. Spoon into a piping bag with a 1.5-2cm plain nozzle. Pipe 12 x 9cm long lengths (about 2cm wide) of the dough on to the prepared baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden. Using a small knife, make a slit along the side of each eclair to open it out. Place cut side up and return to the oven, turn off the heat and leave the door slightly open for 5 -10 minutes to dry out the pastry. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
3. To make the filling, bring the milk just to the boil in a saucepan with the vanilla paste. Meanwhile, mix together the egg yolks, sugar and flours in a bowl. Pour on the hot milk whilst continuously whisking, then return the custard into a wide-based clean pan. Cook over a very gentle heat, stirring until the mix is thicker than custard. Transfer to another mixing bowl and place some clingfilm directly on to the surface. Leave to cool, then chill in the fridge.
4. Meanwhile, make the chocolate glaze. Heat the cream, sugar and vanilla until the sugar has dissolved fully. Add the chocolate and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and finally add the butter, stirring until smooth and glossy. Set aside until needed.
5. When the custard is completely cold, add the cream and beat with an electric whisk until it holds its shape again. Transfer to a piping bag with a 1.5-2cm plain nozzle and fill each eclair. Spread the chocolate glaze over the top of each eclair and leave to set before serving.