A few weeks ago my daughter and I decided to treat ourselves to some frozen yogurt. We both wanted vanilla-chocolate swirl but there was no chocolate that day. So, we shared a giant cup of plain old vanilla.
And it was delicious.
This got us talking about the virtues of vanilla. Sure, we love having some chocolate mixed in with every bite, but eventually the chocolate takes over and drowns out any real hint of the vanilla. By itself, vanilla shines with subtle floral flavors, fragrance and warmth
Our conversation got me to thinking. “She’s so vanilla” is a phrase that implies someone is boring, conventional and unexciting. Maybe, though, vanilla is just a slightly misunderstood introvert hiding in the spice cabinet.
Vanilla is included in just about every cookie, cake, and brownie. It doesn’t always make its presence known – like, say, cinnamon or nutmeg or cloves – but take it away, and you’ll miss the complexity that it brings to every recipe. If you scrape the seeds directly from the pod, it will add a visual beauty that connotes purity and adds even more distinct and aromatic flavor.
Like an introvert, vanilla is content to stand in the background and use it’s quiet voice to make a contribution to a team of louder ingredients.
One of my favorite books, written by Susan Cain, is about the power of introverts and how they can excel and lead in a world that often values a more extroverted personality. In her TED talk, she talks about how introverts should have the courage to speak softly – leveraging the strengths of their more reserved personalities to make an impact.
Don’t underestimate the vanilla hiding in the back of your spices. Its voice is quiet, but it has plenty to say.
Giant Vanilla Sugar Cookies (makes about 15 cookies)
3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
¼ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup granulated sugar extra for rolling the dough before baking
1 large egg
1.5 tablespoons pure vanilla extract or the seeds from 1 pod
Preheat the oven to 350°
In a small bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and baking soda.
In the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese and 1 ¼ cup sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla extract or seeds and beat until combined. Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined.
Using a quarter cup scoop, measure out large balls of dough. Roll the dough in sugar and place on a baking sheet. Flatten each cookie with the palm of your hand or the bottom of a glass, and use a fork to add criss-crossed grooves in each cookie.
Bake for about 9 minutes until cookies are puffy and slightly crispy around the edges.