A pastry chef’s tip for getting the most out of vanilla beans

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Pastry Chef Anna Hingham’s Book of Desserts, The last bite, is sprinkled with recipes that harness and enhance the flavor of the finest ingredients. Just as important as the actual compound desserts are the techniques and tricks you can use over and over again, whatever the recipe. Brown your butter and dry your fruit until it forms a tart chew, writes Hingham. And, in the quickest move to magnify the flavors, char your vanilla beans.

By charring vanilla beans, a technique Hingham credits chef Daniela Soto-Innes, you intensify their flavor and add a smoky note.. This subtle smoke balances the sweetness and fatness of vanilla’s usual haunts – creams, cakes, custards, icings. Also, once inflated, it is easier to remove each spot from the pod with the flat side of a paring knife.. Vanilla, argues Hingham, is “so special and dear that it should be treated with respect and reverence.”

It’s summer: I’m buying expensive heirloom tomatoes. I’ll happily cling to any tip that maximizes the heady notes of the most expensive occupant of my pastry cabinet. (Kerala Vanilla from Diaspora Co will set you back $25 for three gloriously flavored pods.)

Here’s how to char these pods and extract every bit of flavor:

Hingham’s technique is as simple as charring peppers or eggplant on your gas stove. Just pass the pod slowly, held between tongs (I found a pair of moribashi too) over the flame of a burner. You want to go slow so it’s evenly charred – stop when it’s seared and puffy. You don’t have a gas stove? Stir the pod in a hot, heavy-bottomed saucepan, such as a cast iron skillet, until it puffs up.

Once it’s cool enough to handle, scoop out those seeds with the flat side of a knife. Spent pods can be tossed into a sugar jar or saved for infusing cream or custard. Hingham suggests giving the pod a third life when making custard (or custard-based ice cream) by blending the pod after steeping with a little infused milk in a Vitamix blender or blender. as powerful, then adding this puree to the pastry cream. Recipe. While Hingham says dairy is the “perfect carrier for vanilla,” she also likes to add spent beans to cakes and cookies by finely chopping them and folding them into a paste or batter. It works particularly well with nutty or alcoholic flavors – Hingham cites a walnut amaretto cake, tossed with chopped whole beans, as a favorite from his time at the River Café. Regardless of the container, vanilla displays best if used. “If something is called ‘vanilla’, I really want to taste it,” she says.

Happy bakers don’t have to stop there. “Peaches are a no-brainer,” says Hinghmam, but go ahead and flambé your mangoes, plums, figs, grapes, pears, even sweetcorn and pumpkin. Hingham is known for slicing the cheeks off mangoes, scorching their cut edge, then pureeing the softened fruit before swirling a little through the vanilla rice pudding in The last bite.

And then of course there’s the sweeter but equally important cousin of charring, browning a technique that Hingham liberally applies to butter in his candies. But to learn all the ways to work brown butter into your candy, pick up a copy of The last bite.

The Last Bite: A Whole New Approach to Baking Year-Round Desserts

$30.00, Amazon

Originally appeared on Bon Appétit

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