These buttery, jammy, crunchy and crumbly bars are one of the easiest recipes we've featured here. You probably already have the ingredients in your kitchen...so why don't you make some today?
Perfect for a casual dessert, afternoon snack or dare we say breakfast, these simple to make bars can use any kind of jam you have on hand. We used a combination of peach and strawberry so we could clean out our jars :). Feel free to do the same or even make your own jam if you're so inclined.
A stand mixer is not required for this recipe, but we found it was helpful in getting all the ingredients incorporated. Plus, we try to make all our recipes using SideSwipe to show how well it works!
This recipe, which can easily be made gluten-free, is from Brian Hart Hoffman's Bake from Scratch, volume 1. Yields about 16 square servings. (our photos picture 1/9 size servings)
ingredients and equipment
Like us, you may be wondering why in the world vanilla extract has doubled in price in recent years. We found that a number of factors have caused the price to skyrocket: vanilla bean theft (!!), difficult pollination, extreme weather, habitat loss and rapidly growing demand because of the natural food movement. The bottom line: the once basic, "boring" vanilla may wind up becoming a rare sought-after delicacy.
So what's a baker to do? We'll provide information on your alternatives (not very many, we're afraid) in a blog post next week.
We found a great article on the subject in Business Insider. We're reprinting excerpts from the body of their article below. They also include a cute graphic video in their online article, which you can see here.
vanilla is hard to grow
One reason vanilla has gotten so expensive is, it's hard to grow. Vanilla vines take two to four years to fully mature, and their flowers only bloom for one day of the year. In order for the plants to produce beans, they have to be pollinated that day. In most places where vanilla is grown, it isn't a native plant, and there aren't bugs or birds capable of pollinating the flowers. Vanilla is native to Mexico, but deforestation there has greatly reduced its natural habitat. In Madagascar, where over 80% of vanilla is produced, the flowers have to be pollinated by hand. The pods need several months to cure after harvesting. The whole process is time-consuming and labor-intensive. But the record high price of vanilla also has to do with changes in the vanilla market.
artificial vanilla is less popular now
In the 1980s, cheaper artificial vanilla overtook the market. Vanilla farmers cut back production because they weren't making enough money. But around 2011, demand for real vanilla rose again. Big companies were joining the all-natural trend, pledging to eliminate artificial flavorings from their products. It's taken a while for the vanilla farmers to get back in the game and many no longer want to.
black market vanilla
Growing vanilla is a stressful and volatile business because there is such high demand, vanilla beans are a target for theft. After working hard to cultivate their crops some farmers have their beans stolen. As the stolen beans move up the supply chain, they get mixed in with legally purchased beans making it difficult for buyers to know which are which. The prevent theft, farmers pick the beans before they're ripe and unripe beans means lower quality vanilla. Farmers also try to prevent theft by branding their vanilla crops with a metal pronged brand. That way buyers can identify what farm the vanilla came from.
weather problems have added to the shortage
Farmers also run the risk of having their crops destroyed by extreme weather events. Cyclones are common in Madagascar and climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of those storms. If a cyclone were to wipe out vanilla crops next year, it would take until at least 2022 for new plants to start producing beans, and farmers might not want to take that risk. So the supply could continue to drop even further.
Never heard of them? We tried our first lamington in Australia, where they are a iconic, beloved dessert of kids and adults alike. They're on every grocery store shelf and a favorite at school bake sales. Lamingtons are sponge cake surrounded by a soft chocolate glaze and rolled in coconut. Layers with jam or chocolate inside are optional. If you love coconut and chocolate, you'll love lamingtons!
Our lamington, which includes a layer of raspberry jam, is adapted from a recipe by David Lebovitz. It's a fairly simple recipe, but takes some patience, as the sponge cake doesn't include leavening (no baking powder), so you'll need to whip your eggs and sugar for a long time. You'll also need your stand mixer for this recipe - unless you have some pretty impressive arms for whisking. We also, of course, used our SideSwipe, but if you don't have one yet, use your whisk attachment, not your flat beater for this one. We deviated on some of the directions to make it easier on ourselves. Fell free to make as listed or according to our notes.
NOTE: This recipe requires unsweetened, shredded coconut for the coating. We found ours at Trader Joe's, but you might also find it at smaller, natural food type markets.
For the spongecake:
Once iced and tossed in coconut, place the Lamingtons on a wire cooling rack and let stand until the icing firms up a bit.
Winter is orange season, and nothing is more dramatic than a blood orange. And few upside down cakes offer this kind of burst of color to brighten up the winter blues. Blood oranges are available from December to March in North America, but seem to be most prevalent in January. We had to try to showcase them in this cake!
This blood orange almond cake is complex in flavor and texture – sweet, citrusy, nutty, and moist. Our oranges did not offer the super-dark red flesh some varieties offer, but ours were still unique and delicious. Ask at your supermarket or specialty grocer to see what you can expect.
The recipe, by Linda Schneider on Taste, calls for fennel seed, but we chose not to use it. We did include almond extract, and highly recommend that extra boost of almond flavor.
Recipes and mixing tips
Simple recipes for home cooks using SideSwipe + your mixer. Tips for using + caring for your mixer. Our goal = Helping you get a perfect mix + great taste.