Saturday, February 15, 2014

Week 5 - Vanilla

The theme for week 5 of the 52 week challenge was vanilla. I wasn't sure what to make (and ended up not making the dish until week 7 (this week) anyway so I had plenty of time to think about it). Should we go sweet or savory? Dinner or dessert? I saw a couple of savory recipes that included vanilla but wasn't that enthusiastic about any of them, so I ultimately decided to look for desserts and snacks. All I knew was that I didn't want to just pick a recipe that included vanilla extract (since I've used that before) and wanted to use vanilla beans if possible because that would be new to me.

One of the issues with vanilla beans is that they're really expensive (if you're not buying in bulk online or at Costco). I didn't want to buy too many because I have never really had any use for them before and didn't want to waste them. When we visited Trader Joe's in Henderson, NV during our Vegas escape (since we wanted to see if the Nevada stores carried any different products), we saw that they had vanilla beans in small packs in their spices/baking section. I've never seen this at a Trader Joe's near us. It was $4 for 2 vanilla beans, which isn't cheap, but better than any other deal I could find nearby, so we picked up a package.

I decided to adapt this recipe for macaroons, since it was simple, it used a whole vanilla bean, and I have always really liked macaroons. (I wasn't really in the mood for a white chocolate drizzle so I left that part out.) The macaroons themselves only required a few ingredients:

- 1 large vanilla bean ($2)
- 2 large egg whites ($0.36)
- 1/2 cup sugar ($0.25)
- 9 oz shredded (sweetened) coconut ($3)

The total cost of the recipe was $5.61 and it made 17 macaroons (33 cents each). Not too bad, but the big containers of macaroons at the grocery store around the holidays are probably cheaper per macaroon (even if they aren't exactly the same).

The recipe was really straightforward. First, cut open the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Having never worked with vanilla beans before, I thought (for some reason) that the seeds would be larger and would need to be crushed before using. I really enjoyed this step.

Scrape vanilla bean seeds into a large mixing bowl.

At this point I followed advice that I read somewhere along the way online and put the empty bean pod into a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar. I have no idea what we'll use the vanilla sugar for, but I'm sure we can find something.

Add the sugar and egg whites, and whisk together.

After whisking them all together, the vanilla bean seeds broke up and were just little black flecks in the mixture.

Mix in shredded coconut. The recipe called for 3 cups of shredded coconut. I didn't want to buy that much coconut, so I opted to buy 2 packages (totaling 12 oz) instead, figuring that would just have to do. All the coconut is supposed to be well-coated with the egg mixture and I'm not sure how that could happen if using double the amount (or more) of coconut I used.

Make tablespoon-sized balls of coconut mixture and place on parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Bake at 325 degrees for about 15-20 minutes until the outside of the macaroons are golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

I tried the macaroons when they were warm and they were so deliciously gooey. Once they cooled completely, they were still crunchy on the outside and sticky on the inside, but a little less gooey. You can really see the little black flecks of vanilla bean when you look at the macaroons. We liked them.

Focusing on the vanilla (since it's the theme of the week), the vanilla bean didn't seem to add much more than vanilla extract would have. A's thought was that, since vanilla beans are expensive, this might not be the best use for them, and he's probably right about that. Now to figure out what to do with the other vanilla bean and the box of vanilla sugar...

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