Holidays are here and it’s time to bake a lot of sweet stuff.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am somewhat of a freak about my chocolate chip cookie recipe.
At age 9 I was first introduced to the seductive allure of home baked chocolate chip cookies with the famous Nestle Tollhouse recipe. With the help of my mother, we quickly adjusted the recipe to exclude some of the ingredients she was testing as triggers to her MS. In order to meet the fantastic taste and consistency desired, I had to learn how to compensate in other aspects of the recipe – like method.
You think I’m crazy, don’t you? You’re like, “Dude. It’s a chocolate chip cookie recipe. How can you go wrong?”
But I am telling you, my chocolate chip cookies are F-ing good. This photo is not.
One of the first things I do when I move to a new place is adjust the recipe to meet the local conditions. Back when I lived in the US, that meant learning the peculiarities of a new stove. Figuring out where to buy the best local chocolate, etc. Since I moved abroad (first Denmark, then Australia, and now Italia), the test has been:
to source the correct ingredients.
Italian flour is not like American flour. That’s why they sell “farina di Manitoba” for twice the price at the local Coop. (Side note to Italians: MANITOBA IS IN CANADA… Debatable on how American that is… says the Texan, born to an English father, married to an Italian.)
One of the big challenges here in Europe is the vanilla situation. Whenever I get Europeans asking for my recipe, I tell them that it will likely turn out differently when they make it at home.
They ask, “Why?”
I say, “Because you won’t have vanilla extract”.
They say, “Of course we will! Where do you think we are – some third world country?!”
I pause, ponder that odd retort, correct them, and point out that they will probably instead have vanilla aroma.
They will then say… “eh? What’s the difference?”
Everything, my dear, everything.
So – to be clear – I’m not giving you my chocolate chip cookie recipe. I hardly know you. I have only given out the recipe to a few very close friends on their wedding days. My sister is still begging me for it. I told her I need to see more evidence of commitment.
However, I will share a little trade secret with you. Vanilla extract can be made at home, even in Italia.
1. When you go to Coop and seek out the baking section, divert your gaze from the nasty aroma vaniglia that makes everything taste like potpourri. Nearby there should be the option to purchase a vile containing 1 or 2 long, skinny vanilla beans (called “vaniglia in bacca“)… for like 200 euros each. Just kidding. Kinda.
2. Get those and a bottle of good vodka or brandy and head home.
3. Now, grab a big knife. (I know what you’re thinking – a bottle of vodka, a big knife, and some magic beans…. WHAT THE HELL, M?)
4. Starting a centimeter or so in from the end of the bean, slice all the way down its length until you get a centimeter or so from the other end. Do that for at least two beans per jar that you have.
5. In a shallow jar, bend your vanilla beans around the base and cover them up with vodka. Pop the jar in a cool, dark location, and wait about 2 or 3 months.
Boom. Vanilla extract.
Well… wait 2 or 3 months. Then boom. I didn’t say it would be immediate.
By the way – makes a great little Christmas gift… if you start in September / October. In fact, I’m just now realizing that this entire post is poorly timed.
Start now, and you’ll have vanilla extract in time for the end of the holiday season, for which you probably needed a lot of vanilla extract!!
(I’m here to help.)