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Vanilla that’s anything but…

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Although the word “vanilla” has been used to conjure up something plain, unadorned and even uninteresting, in actuality, it’s anything but. High quality vanilla mingles well with a whole host of flavors. Whether bolstering a dessert featuring fruit, chocolate, coffee or custard, vanilla plays a transformative role, adding its exotic and lingering notes wherever it is used.  And it’s no wonder. From vine to kitchen, vanilla takes a lengthy multistep journey to develop its complex and lingering flavor profile. From an unassuming long green bean-like pod to the flavor-packed wonder, growers take extreme care to ensure that the beans are picked at just the right moment and then processed under exacting conditions.

When pastry chefs use the real thing, they know a little goes a long way to making their creations memorable—and delicious. Real vanilla announces its complex yet balanced personality in every bite of mousse, flan, buttery sponge cake, baked meringue and so many other treats, making a strong case for using high-quality ingredients versus poor imitations.

Le Comptoir de Madeleine near Montmartre in Paris focuses on its namesake product, a version of the delicate buttery cake that launched a thousand memories back in the early 20th century for the author Marcel Proust in his classic novel Remembrance of Things Past. At his shop, Quentin Hua reports that his modern-day vanilla-flavored version is the best seller by far, almost flying out of those scallop-shaped molds into the hands of customers eager to devour them as soon as they emerge from the oven. In fact, Hua bakes multiple small batches throughout the day to serve them fresh and keep the air around his bakery well-perfumed and enticing. “I like how the flavor and texture—and color– of Tahitian Gold 3-Bean Blend paste pervades our madeleines cooked at high heat so that they are crunchy on the outside with a tender and very fragrant interior.” To ensure the vanilla sings clearly through the buttery personality of this mini cake, Hua doses 100 g for each 3 kilos of the batter, about 3% by weight, yielding lots of flavor and yet economical.

Pastry Chef Randy Nielsen at the Edgewood Resort on Lake Tahoe, in Stateline, NV, is inspired by the regional flora and emphasizes the use of as many locally grown ingredients as possible on his dessert menu. A dessert he created, called Sierra Wildflower, includes Tahitian Gold vanilla in two forms: whole beans and in Fleur de Sel (sea salt). He scrapes the beans to flavor a base of Elderflower mousse and uses Tahitian Vanilla Fleur de Sel in a Sunflower Praline at the center of the white chocolate-petaled flower atop the mousse. “I thought I was spoiled 18 years ago when I started my career and got to use vanilla beans for the first time in a professional environment. But now with the availability of Tahitian Gold’s Tahitian vanilla products, which I consider as essential as salt is in savory cooking, I find that their naturally sweet flavor allows me to use less sugar in my desserts, which is well-appreciated by our guests.”

No matter the form, using vanilla products made from real vanilla that has been carefully nurtured clearly debunks the notion that vanilla is plain. Some have even called it an aphrodisiac, intoxicating more than just the senses of smell and taste. We can now appreciate that vanilla’s captivating aroma and flavor can only be achieved after a labor-intensive process during cultivation. From the hand-pollination of the flowers that bloom only once a year, to curing the beans to develop that unmistakable flavor, vanilla at times quietly insinuates itself onto our taste buds as a grace note, and at other times insists on our rapt attention. Thank Mother Nature and the ingenuity of man for this alluring and enduring gift.

Photo by The Travel Buds


By Quentin Hua, Le Comptoir de Madeleine, Paris

The epitome of something memorable, if well done, madeleines are the perfect canvas for Tahitian Gold vanilla, and the vanilla version here highlights the subtle but alluring flavor in every crisp and fine-grained bite.

Yield: 12-15 madeleines, depending on size of molds

  • 110 g all-purpose flour
  • 100 g granulated sugar
  • 60 g almond flour
  • 6 g baking soda
  • 2 g salt
  • 10 g milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 90 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 10 g Tahitian Gold 3-Bean Blend Whole Vanilla Bean Paste

1. Sift together the dry ingredients. Add the milk and egg and mix gently with spatula. Add the melted butter. Chill the batter overnight.

2. Use a spoon to create shape of “quenelles” and deposit into the molds.

3. Preheat the oven to 428°F (220°C), then bake the madeleines at 374-392°F (190-200°C), with fan, until done. Do not overbake. Allow to cool in the mold for 5 minutes.

4. Unmold and let cool for 5 minutes again to preserve the crunchy exterior. To recrisp, reheat in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes at 284°F (140°C).

Sierra Wildflower

Randy Nielsen, Edgewood Resort, Stateline, NV

Drawing upon local flavors and the natural surroundings, this dessert has cream and crunch and an added visual pop in the form of an almost-realistic flower made from white chocolate jauntily resting atop. Note: All of the following components needed should be made a day in advance of serving.

Yield: 9 individual desserts

Dandelion Cremeux

  • 250 g heavy cream                                                      
  • 20 g milk                                                                           
  • 35 g granulated sugar                                                        
  • 15 g glucose                                                         
  • 10 Full Chea Dandelion Root premium roasted tea bags (the tea in each bag weighs 2.5 g)
  • 50 g egg yolks                                         .                                    
  • 10 g Valrhona Opalys white chocolate, melted
  • 4 g gelatin sheets (gold), bloomed in ice water and then squeezed to remove excess liquid

1. In a saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and glucose and bring to a simmer. Add the tea bags and let the mixture steep overnight, refrigerated.                                      

2. The next day, bring the cream mixture to a simmer again and then pour through a chinois, pushing hard on the tea bags to yield as much of the infused cream as possible.                

3. Temper in the egg yolks and cook gently to nappé consistency, 167°F (75°C). Place the sauce mixture into a container to immersion blend. Cool to 158°F (68°C), then add the white chocolate and bloomed gelatin. Stir to combine thoroughly. Divide the mixture evenly in small insert molds (Demarle Flexipan—half sphere FP1489 .67 oz) Freeze until ready to assemble the dessert. Note: This recipe yields 17 inserts, but you will only need 8 inserts for this dessert. The remaining inserts should be stored, wrapped tightly, and stored in the freezer for the next batch of the dessert.     

Almond Dacquoise

  • 735 g egg whites                                             
  • 582 g granulated sugar                                     
  • 582 g almond flour                                           
  • 288 g confectioners’ sugar

1. Make a meringue with the egg whites and sugar.

2. Pulse the dry ingredients in the robot coupe and then fold into the meringue.               

3. Line a sheet pan with a silicone baking mat. Spread the meringue evenly onto the mat,  0.4ʺ (1 cm) thick. Bake at 380°F (193°C) for 12 minutes. Cool.

4. Cut into 1.5ʺ (4 cm) rounds and set aside, covered. 

Elderflower & Vanilla Bavarois                                                                              

  • 185 g heavy cream                                                            
  • 45 g elderflower syrup (Monin brand)                                          
  • 1 Tahitian Gold Tahitian Vanilla Bean, scraped well  
  • 20 g egg yolks                                                      
  • 8 g gelatin sheets (gold), bloomed in ice water, with excess water squeezed out
  • 29 g Valrhona Opalys white chocolate                             
  • 262 g heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks         

1. Bring the 185 g cream, the elderflower syrup and the scraped vanilla bean to a simmer. Temper in the egg yolks and cook to nappé consistency. Pour the mixture into a container ready to immersion blend. Add the white chocolate to the mixture and cool to 154°F (68°C) before adding the bloomed gelatin. Now cool to 90°F (32°C) and immersion blend again to ensure a smooth texture. Fold in the whipped cream.

2. Pipe into the Silikomart Professional Stone 85 Silicone 3D Molds (85 ml volume) so that the molds are 2/3 full, and then insert the frozen Dandelion Cremeux insert into the Bavarois, covering the insert with the remaining Bavarois. Use a spatula to smooth off the tops of the mold. Now place a 1.5ʺ (4 cm) round of Almond Dacquoise on top of the mousse and then freeze overnight.

Flower Petals

  • 500 g Valrhona Opalys white chocolate, tempered                                    
  • 2 g Power Flowers Cocoa Butter yellow florets (4 florets)

1. Add the Power Flowers Cocoa Butter florets and stir to combine thoroughly. Check the temper and proceed.                   

2. To form each of the flower petals, dip a paring knife into the tempered chocolate and then deposit it onto a piece of parchment to create the flower petals. Half of the petals are to be set flat and the other half are to be set in a baguette pan to curve them. For each completed flower, you will need 6 flat petals and 6 curved petals.

3. After the petals are set, create the bases for the flowers by spreading a thin layer of the remaining tempered chocolate (which weighs approximately 90 grams) onto a quarter sheet acetate sheet and then marking the chocolate before it sets into 1ʺ (2.5 cm) squares. You should get approximately 60 1ʺ (2.5 cm) squares from this sheet, of which you will use 10.

4. Once set, peel off the squares, and place each square on the work surface. Build the flowers by first attaching the curved chocolate petals onto the chocolate in a circular fashion, using additional tempered chocolate to attach as needed, and cold spray to set them quickly. Then attach a flat petal between each of the curved petals to make a 12-petaled flower. Set the flowers aside in a cool place until ready to assemble the entremets. Note: this recipe yields approximately 10 finished 12-petaled flowers, with each petal weighing 4-4.5 grams.

Glaçage Brillant

  • 111 g water
  • 171 g granulated sugar
  • 157 g glucose
  • 122 g condensed milk
  • 12 g gelatin sheets (gold)
  • 185 g Valrhona Opalys white chocolate fèves
  • 12 g white color emulsion gel (Chef Rubber brand)

1. Boil the water, sugar, glucose for 1 minute.

2. Add the condensed milk to the boiled sugar mixture. Pour this mixture directly over the chocolate fèves and let it sit for at least 45 seconds. Add the food color and then process the mixture using an immersion blender without incorporating any excess air which would lead to unwanted bubbles in the glaze. Cool to 144°F (62°C) and add bloomed gelatin (squeezed of excess water). Note: The working temperature for glazing is between 32°C-35°C. This can be made either on the day before serving the dessert (refrigerated and rewarmed) or just before glazing the entremets. After glazing, the entremets should be placed in the refrigerator to come to serving temperature            

Sunflower Praline

Photos by Edgewood Tahoe Resort
  • 300 g toasted sunflower seeds
  • 250 g granulated sugar
  • 5 g Tahitian Gold Tahitian Vanilla Fleur de Sel
  • 20 g neutral oil

1. Arrange the sunflower seeds on a silicone baking mat and set aside.

2. Cook the sugar to make a dry caramel. Cook to an amber color and then pour the hot caramel over the sunflower seeds on the baking. Let cool.

3. Process the caramel and sunflower mixer to a fine powder in a Robot Coupe. Add the Tahitian Gold Vanilla Sea Salt and oil and blend again until smooth. Note: this recipe yields more than you will need for a single batch of entremets, but this keeps and may be held at cool room temperature and used for subsequent batches of the dessert.Each flower requires approximately 11 grams of the praline.

Dark Chocolate Chia Seed Flower Centers

  • 90 g dark chocolate, tempered
  • 65 g chia seeds

1. On the day of serving, spread the dark chocolate on a quarter sheet acetate sheet. Sprinkle the chia seeds over the chocolate while it is still wet. Allow to set.

2. Once set, cut into 20 circles, each measuring 2ʺ (5 cm) in diameter. Note: You should yield 20 circles, only 8 of which will be used for this batch of the dessert. Hold the remaining circles at cool room temperature to use for the next batch of the dessert.


1. Pipe a 0.78ʺ (2 cm) circle of Sunflower Praline into the center of each flower and then place the Dark Chocolate Chia Seed Flower Centers on top of the praline. The praline should help keep the discs in place.

2. Remove the completed Elderflower & Vanilla Bavarois from the freezer. Place, cake side down onto an icing rack, set on a sheet pan. Coat each Bavarois with the Glacage Brillant. Then place a finished flower on top of each gateau and serve.    

(This article appeared in the Winter 2024 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)                 

Robert Wemischner
Robert Wemischnerhttp://robertwemischner.com/
Robert Wemischner is a longtime professional baking instructor at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College and the author of four books, including The Dessert Architect.