Vanilla extract (Recipe: chocolate chip ice cream cookies)
First published in October 2006, this updated pantry ingredient post features new photos, links, and a few tweaks to the recipe. Try this variation with dark chocolate chips, for a deeply satisfying chocolate cookie treat. (Where's the ice cream? It's in the dough.)
Chocolate and vanilla, the culinary Romeo and Juliet: grown in different areas of the world, stored in different parts of the pantry, but they find a way to be together in the end.
All the great chocolate desserts — ice cream, brownies, cakes and cookies — depend on vanilla to enhance the chocolate flavor. The Aztecs may have discovered this synergy, but the first people to spread the word were Spanish conquistadors, who got hooked on a chocolate drink flavored with vanilla at the court of Moctezuma, and sent vanilla pods back to Spain.
Vanilla pairs well with flavors other than chocolate, too, such as the "warm" spices: cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and saffron. Usually we associate vanilla with sweets, but it marries with savory foods like seafood and vegetables, too.
Vanilla planifolia, a perennial, climbing orchid native to Central America, produces pods which actually have no aroma or taste until they are fermented. Vanilla extract, invented in the late 19th Century by pharmacists as a remedy for upset stomach, is made by macerating vanilla pods in ethyl alcohol — not bourbon whiskey, as the name implies. (The name originated in the 1800s, when the French developed large vanilla plantations on Réunion, which was known as Ile de Bourbon.)
If you plot on a map the countries that produce vanilla -- Tahiti, Mexico, Indonesia, Madagascar and Réunion -- you'll see that they are all within a similar latitude north or south of the Equator. Do the same with chocolate; you'll find that the major chocolate producers are all much closer to the Equator. (This is a fun thing to do with a giant world map and a group of kids.)
At a tasting I hosted in my own kitchen, fourteen parents and middle-school gourmands-in-the-making chose vanilla extract made by Charles H. Baldwin & Sons, a fifth-generation business in West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as the favorite, besting the best quality Madagascar, Tahitian and Mexican vanilla extracts. The Baldwin family has been making Bourbon vanilla extract since 1888, and still uses the original oak vats to age the extract before bottling.
Most of the time I use Baldwin extract, but Cousin Martin brought some wonderful elixir from Tahiti, which has a rich and pronounced flavor that's lovely in baked goods. I've also got a bottle or two of the popular Madagascar vanilla extract, and some from Mexico that I don't like quite as much.
Chocolate chip ice cream cookies
On rainy Sunday afternoons, Ted and I sometimes go "antiquing" — not for real antiques, but for old stuff. One of our favorite vendors had a stash of cookbooks: a Diana Kennedy book on Mexican regional cuisine, a volume on Hungarian cooking by a Hollywood producer, and The Search for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie, from which I've adapted this recipe.
Makes 3 dozen.
1-1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/3 cup chocolate ice cream, softened
6 oz (1 cup) dark chocolate chips
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with Silpats (silicone liners) or parchment paper, and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt.
In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, sugars, cocoa, and vanilla, and beat until creamy. (This will be tough going, so use a stand mixer if you prefer.) Add egg and ice cream; beat well.
Gradually add dry ingredients to the wet, and mix well. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts, just until all of the ingredients are incorporated (do not overmix).
Use a small cookie scoop or tablespoon to form the cookies, placing them 2 inches apart on the prepared cookie sheets.
Bake at 350F for 14-16 minutes until well set. Do not overbake. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches, from Cooking On the Side
Dark chocolate, pistachio and smoked sea salt cookies, from Joy the Baker
Chocolate puddle cookies, from 101 Cookbooks
Triple chocolate oreo chunk cookies, from Two Peas & Their Pod
Thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies, from Brown Eyed Baker
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on books purchased through the Amazon.com links in this post.