Monday, September 12, 2011

My Secret Ingredient Revealed

Perhaps I just need to get this out of my system so my boyfriend, family, and friends don't have to listen to me obsess over it so much.  But it's just that good, I want to shout it for all of Youngstown to hear, and beyond.

Mexican vanilla is amazing.

I'm just out of school, and with student loans and a car payment, I try to save as much as I can.  I don't always buy the absolute best (read: expensive) ingredients, when I know I should, but I never thought anyone would know the difference.  If I couldn't tell, how could I expect anyone else to?

That was until I bought Mexican vanilla.

Vanilla comes from orchids.  Who knew something so pretty could make something so delicious too!

Until now I'd been buying vanilla extract from Sam's Club, GFS, and local bulk food stores.  When my boyfriend and I went to Cozumel on a cruise this spring, I indulged myself with an enormous bottle of Mexican vanilla (32 amazing ounces).  After all, in Mexico it was only $8 (a steal from the $7 I'd been paying for 16 oz).  (You can buy Mexican vanilla online cheaper than in stores--especially if you're buying in bulk, but it's still more expensive than Tone's or GFS extract.)

I came home and opened it- it smelled like heaven (smelling it felt like vacation- a much more mild smell than any other vanilla extract I've used.  The delicateness of the smell and the fact that the extract did not smell like alcohol let off a complex aroma, and I was hooked). I even considered taking a shot of it just for fun. I started using it here and there, in brownies, cookies...everyone said it was good and I thought it tasted good, but I didn't think it was anything too spectacular.

The first time I really noticed an impact on flavor was when I made my niece's baptism cake.  It was the first cake in which I'd made using Mexican vanilla- a white cake filled with custard and frosted with a rich Italian meringue buttercream frosting.  As I sat down and had a piece of my cake, for the first time I thought, "Damn, I make a great cake!" and marveled in the simple, yet fantastic, flavor I was experiencing.

Mexican vanilla was the little something that my baked goods had been missing.  It's most noticeable in lighter items and those items that rely mainly on vanilla for flavor, such as frostings and vanilla ice cream.  It's a much more complex and not so much bold, bringing simple baked goods to life.

Since Mexican vanilla is more expensive, I recommend using less expensive vanilla extract for items where vanilla is meant to compliment a flavor, such as brownies and chocolate ice cream.  Use Mexican vanilla for delicate items that rely on vanilla for flavor- fillings for clothespin cookies, vanilla frosting, vanilla ice cream.  It's worth it.

What is your secret ingredient?


  1. It's like when I go to Costa Rica! I stock up on vanilla from there and it's all I love to use :D Vanilla is too wonderful to be substituted with artificial flavors.

  2. That is so true! I'm already making plans to bring back a new stash on our next trip!