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April 01, 2006

"Feel like makin' loaf!": Amanda Hesser's vanilla bean loaf

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"Just admit vanilla is the finest of the flavours and I'll give you a piece," I demanded.

"C'mon, Rob," my friend pleaded.  "What if I admit that vanilla is a very fine flavour?"

"No, Dave," I replied, waving a fragrant slice of vanilla loaf in his direction, "you know what you need to say."

I'm really not comfortable emotionally blackmailing anyone, but Dave and I have a special friendship.  You see, Dave is a chocoholic, whereas I am a vanilla addict.  That doesn't mean he doesn't like vanilla and I don't like chocolate, it just means that we have a strong preference, a preference over which we've bickered for at least five years.

Our difference -- the chocolate versus vanilla chasm, if you will -- is, I think, the fundamental duality in human civilization.  Forget male and female, black and white, raw and cooked; nope, as far as I'm concerned, all I really need to know about a person is whether they prefer vanilla or chocolate.

A chocolate lover is ruled by emotion and uncontrollable impulses. They are prone to cravings at any moment of the day and are helpless to fight them.  Moreover, the chocoholic requires increasingly powerful doses of their drug of choice.  This inevitably leads to one of two scenarios: either the person gorges on mountains of corner store chocolate, or they progress to chocolates with higher quantities of the stimulant they so badly need, cocoa.  If you're one of those people who craves 85% pure cocoa bars, it's time to admit you have a problem.

The vanilla lover, by contrast, is an imminently rational creature who appreciates nuance and exercises restraint.  As a connoisseur, she must sometimes be satisfied with only the subtlest notes of vanilla in a preparation.  Never one to gloat, the vanilla lover is loathe to point out to the chocolate addict that the bar they so crave often derives much of its flavour from the addition of vanilla.

That's because vanilla is the salt of the dessert world -- a team player that raises all other ingredients to a higher level, including chocolate, but rarely demands the spotlight itself.  But when it does, watch out.  A bowl of real vanilla ice cream, homemade and flecked with thousands of beautiful seeds, is one of gastronomy's landmark achievements, a symphony of flavour played on just three instruments: cream, sugar, and vanilla.

Amanda Hesser's vanilla loaf is another miraculous showcase of vanilla's star power.  Rachel, who is all too aware of my love of vanilla, first pointed the recipe out to me a couple of years ago while reading Cooking For Mr. Latte: A Food Lover's Courtship, with Recipes. One bite is all it takes to fall in love: you bathe the still-warm loaf in a vanilla syrup that permeates and moistens the dense, tender crumb inside while glazing and enriching the crust.  When I make this loaf I use vanilla sugar and no fewer than four vanilla beans (which I buy at either Scheffler's Deli or Chris' Cheesmongers in the St. Lawrence Market), two in the syrup and two in the loaf itself.  The result is intensely sweet and unmistakeably vanilla.

I'm not the only blogger to have fallen head over heels for this loaf.  If you'd like the recipe and want to be entertained, check out this post by Adam at The Amateur Gourmet, who recently named this loaf one of the best things he's eaten in two years of food blogging.  I don't know whether Adam's a vanilla man or a chocolate man, but I wholeheartedly concur with his evaluation of this dish.

Vanilla or chocolate.  The decision is never easy, I know.  Just because I have my feet planted firmly in the vanilla camp doesn't mean I don't love to eat chocolate.  Luckily, I've devised a simple test to determine one's preference: if confronted, decide whether you'd choose a bowl of best quality vanilla or chocolate ice cream, and "both" is not an acceptable answer.

So, which are you?

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Comments

linda

Chocolate-fan myself...vanilla is good but it doesn't really push my buttons. I don't binge on dark chocolate...white is my favored one (I know it's not very sophisticated). As for the ice cream, I'd take the vanilla...don't like chocolate ice cream.

Bea at La Tartine Gourmande

Good test. I would go with vanilla ice cream but I love dark chocolate. I am stuck, I cannot decide! Love crème anglaise and can only have a small amount of chocolate versus a lot of crème anglaise. Rob, you are presenting a problem of indecisevness to me! ANd in order not to decide, do you know what I baked recently? Marbled cake.
No matter what, this loaf looks great!

verniciousknids

I'm afraid I fail your test...as I cannot choose between the two. I love both chocolate and vanilla equally :p The vanilla loaf looks outstanding!

MM

I'm firmly in the chocolate camp and I take offense to your patronising generalisation of us! I am soooo NOT impulsive and ruled by emotion. NOT! NOT! NOT! Damn you ... Lord, now I need a tissue ... Oh, I need a tub of choccie ice cream now. Sniff.

Tania

Although I do love good chocolate, I'm definitely a vanilla girl at heart. This trait comes to the fore during Girl Guide cookie season, when I savour each and every vanilla sandwich cookie while eating the chocolate ones only because they're there. Wish I could get an all-vanilla box!

As for this loaf ... Well, what can I say but that it's a "must try" recipe!

bron

Being a Leo, the fire and passion inside says chocolate, chocolate, chocolate, 85% baby!!

Nah, truthfully I would have a foot in both courts, I've never had a scoop of chocolate icecream I loved as much as a scoop of vanilla icecream.
Actually I don't think it's a fair test, it ought to be chocolate loaf against vanilla loaf! ;-)

Does look yummy and I'm sure it smells and tastes even better, wish we had "smellablogs" hehe

Ivonne

Rob!

You're making me want to buy another cookbook. Very bad! Very bad!

Or maybe very good depending on how you look at it. And by the looks of this look it would be very very VERY good!

I am happy to say that I have mastered the chocolate/vanilla chasm. I am perfectly balanced with the universe as I give equal love to both.

Another wonderful post from Hungry in Hogtown ... I love you guys!

Michelle

Oh, I was positive that I was a chocoholic (emotional? ruled by emotion? have you been talking to my boyfriend?? huh?), until you threw out the ice cream trick - I have to agree with you that there is nothing like a bowl of homemade vanilla ice cream...so tough to decide. I think I'll just have to make this vanilla loaf and if I become suddenly rational and able to exercise restraint, well then, I suppose I'll have my answer. I'll keep you posted! And damn you. Now I have Bad Company stuck in my head. Evil, evil man.

rob

linda, I don't know that I've met many people whose preference is white chocolate. I love it too though, so especially in ice cream.

Bea, I'm amused by your indecision. Creme anglaise is my favourite sauce in the world. Love it, love it, love it. Will you be posting about your marble cake soon?

verniciousknids, I understand and sympathize with your indecision. I love them both too, I just know which I prefer.

MM, very funny. It's not fair to generalize, I know, because there are times when I'm pretty impulsive myself.

Tania, it's funny you mention Girl Guide cookies. Dave (the chocolate love I mentioned in the post) brought some in last week. I was quite happy to help in finish the vanilla cookies while he enjoyed the chocolate.

bron, chocolate loaf versus vanilla loaf is a tough test. Perhaps vanilla loaf versus brownies? I'm glad to hear of your love for vanilla ice cream.

Ivonne, you're way too kind, as usual. If it helps, Cooking for Mr. Latte not strictly a cookbook; it's more of a story with many recipes. Kind of a fun read, too.

Michelle, thank you for appreciating the classic music reference. If it helps, I've that damn song stuck in my head since I came up with the title for this post. I wish I could shake it.

jasmine

Hmmm....

In my heart of hearts, I'm in the chocolate camp. Mind you, I've been wearing a lot of vanilla lately...


j

sam

Your test is flawed: I am the chocolate person, of the two, but I would go for vanilla ice cream over the chocolate variety any day. Chocolate icecream isnt the same as chocolate. No sireee.

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