When I grew up, my family occasionally bought a tri-colored ice cream sold in a oval plastic container, how three flavours managed to comfortably fit in a box always bewildered me as a kid. When you peeled back the lid, a dull chocolate sat on your left, pallor in flavor and left a bitter alkaline aftertaste in your mouth. To that wash away, you could have a spoonful of the fairy-pink concoction to the right, its taste screamed artificial, but its label said Strawberry. Finally, sandwiched between the two was plain ol' vanilla, which was no better than it's neighbors.
I typically dived into the chocolate and strawberry ice creams first, devouring their exciting, albeit cheap, airy tastes. The container was no longer pristine, there was a mudslide on one end and a cotton candy disaster on the other, the vanilla sat untouched in the middle. I left it for later use, like thickening my milkshakes or dolloping over waffles.
Vanilla just didn't do it for me. The flavour, to me, was something better suited for wimps too scared to try exhilarating tastes like dark swirls of chocolate fudge dotted with chunks of nutty clusters, or speckles of strawberry, cold but chewy on the teeth. Even now, if given the option between chocolate or vanilla cake, I'd give you a disgusted look, roll my eyes and serve you a hefty dose of sarcasm, “DUH. Chocolate. Stoopid.” Vanilla to me is a bland, white sheet of paper.
Initially, I wanted to make this chocolate expresso bundt cake, but since I already spoiled you with this tart, I thought vanilla would be a nice change. Despite using my own vanilla extract for months now, I've never used the nitty black vanilla seeds before. So I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the wrinkly pods, their dark, enchanting, musky scent overwhelming my nostrils.
Just when I thought the scent of vanilla beans was overpowering, it's magnified 238 times when baked in a cake. Within minutes after sliding the pan into the oven, a heady sweetness filled my apartment, from the front door all the way to the balcony on the other side. It was nearly impossible to concentrate on anything else but deep breaths of warm butter and sugar.
The worst part was not being able to taste it until much later, at my family's potluck dinner. I had to wait nine (9!!) hours to take a bite of this sucker, but boy, was it worth the wait. The golden ring surrounding the yellow cake was pure beauty, the grain (those little holes) was smooth and uniform. You could even see the vanilla seeds freckling each buttery slice. If there are angels, I imagine they would have this cake to accompany their afternoon tea, exclaiming how undeniably moist, light, and fluffy it is. They will dreamingly sigh how the cake glows with charm, its taste is simple and clean, not bombarded with other conflicting flavors, and then they will dainty pick up the remaining crumbs on their plates, lick their fingers and call it the Best Vanilla Cake on Earth.
This is the kind of dessert you want to enjoy with legs tucked underneath you, surrounded by a family that you adore because they share the same sense of humor with you, and it's just the thing to settle your aching heart after a long, hard week. I suppose vanilla isn't so bad after all (it's so good in fact, I had to change my blog header, so it could strut its stuff).
I ditched the vanilla bean glaze that Rosie used, since I had so much trouble whisking a glaze that was thick enough to drizzle over the cake. If you're lazy like me, icing sugar works just fine. But if you're fancy, you can try Rosie's original recipe for the glaze, in fact, I bet you will have more patience than me.
Makes 1 bundt cake using a 10 to 15 cup bundt pan
Ingredients 3 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened 1 3/4 cups granulated sugar 2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise 4 large eggs 1 cup buttermilk icing sugar, to decorate
Preparation 1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Generously butter pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess.
2. Whisk together dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat together butter and sugar in an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy(about 5 minutes). Scrape seeds from vanilla beans with tip of a paring knife and add into butter mixture, reserving pods for another use, and beat until well combined (about 1 minute). Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Using wooden spoon, add flour mixture and milk alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture, mixing until just combined.
3. Pour batter into pan, smoothing and spreading evenly. Gently tap pan on counter to eliminate air bubbles.
4. Bake until the tip of a knife or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan 1 hour, then invert onto a rack and cool completely, about 1 hour more. Once cool, sift icing sugar over cake to decorate.