I’m now down to the business end of this Vanilla Project. The fun conceptualising part is over, now is the actual production part, made trickier by the fact that I’m still learning Dreamweaver and Flash! The website had to have an environmental aspect to it, and in my early research I learned about the Rainforest Vanilla Conservation Association. The concept of my website then became a shop selling pure vanilla products, from food to perfume, containing real vanilla grown in this way.
Both vanilla and cocoa are species native to the tropical rainforest, therefore they thrive best in their native environment. Vanilla is a vine and therefore requires the support of a tutor tree. It is difficult to grow under artificial conditions in plantation style settings, where the land is cleared and concrete posts are installed for the vines to grow on. Vanilla production is most sustainable under natural shade trees using traditional production methods.
Cocoa has always been a subsistence crop of poor farmers in developing countries. In recent times, farmers have been abandoning the crop for more lucrative agricultural activities. Dwindling supplies have forced worldwide prices to rise. However, cocoa makes an excellent tutor tree for vanilla vines and has the added benefit of providing an additional source of income for the vanilla farmer. If vanilla and cocoa prices stabilize at a level that gives a good return to the farmers, both crops will be an important source of economic incentives to conserve the tropical rainforest.
A one acre vanilla-cocoa plantation is estimated to annually absorb the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions from burning 2,550 gallons of gasoline. For every serving of real vanilla or chocolate ice cream you enjoy, you are removing from the atmosphere the equivalent carbon dioxide emissions from burning the same weight of gasoline.
I had never made crème brulée before this weekend. In fact I had only ever eaten one in my life, at my favourite Patisserie in The Rocks while waiting for a ferry. I fell in love with the way the crunchy toffee topping gave way to the silky vanilla flecked custard below. I recently found a little kitchen blowtorch for an unbelievable price and I had to have it, so this was its official christening. I picked Dorie Greenspan’s recipe because it looked the simplest and didn’t require as many egg yolks as others I have come across. I am accumulating egg whites at an unbelievable rate, at last count there were fifteen in my freezer! I made vanilla crème brulées this time, keeping with the theme of my project, but I’m looking forward to experimenting with different flavours in the near future.
Adapted from Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan
• 1 ¼ cups thick (heavy) cream
• ½ cup whole milk
• 1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped
• 3 egg yolks
• 1/3 cup sugar
• About 6 tablespoons light brown sugar
1. Combine milk, cream and vanilla seeds and bean in a small saucepan. Bring just to a boil, then remove from the heat and allow the mixture to infuse for at least 30 minutes.
2. Preheat the oven to 95°C (200°F). Place six ramekins on a baking tray.
3. When ready to make the custard, reheat the cream mixture and remove the vanilla bean.
4. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl until well blended. While still whisking, drizzle in about a quarter of the warm cream mixture. This ensures the eggs won’t curdle. Slowly pour the remainder of the cream and milk and whisk well.
5. Tap the bowl against the bench to remove the bubbles and strain it into the ramekins.
6. Bake the custards for 50-60 minutes or until the centers are set. Allow to cool until they reach room temperature. Cover each with plastic wrap and refrigerate, preferably overnight.
7. Sprinkle each custard with a tablespoon of brown sugar, then caramelise the sugar with a blowtorch until it bubbles and colours. Wait until the bubbles subside before serving.