Happy Tuesday, y’all!
We’ll get to cranberry sauce and all things that go “gobble gobble” in just a moment, but first:
Last week I had the chance to attend a baking demo and filming at the Nielsen-Massey Vanillas headquarters in Waukegan, Illinois.
Now, normally if you asked me if I wanted to attend an event at 8:30 on a Monday morning, you’d get something between a death glare and a “You’ve got to be kidding me” look. Last week, however, even an early morning drive (and waking up a hour late with only 15 minutes to get ready…whoops) couldn’t keep me from attending this event.
The morning started out with a tour of the factory where the vanilla extracts are produced, bottled, and shipped.
All of the vanillas start, of course, with the beans, and Nielsen-Massey only uses the highest quality beans from Madagascar, Mexico, and Tahiti, which are inspected first by the suppliers and then again at the factory, ensuring that only the highest grade vanilla beans go into their extracts. Unlike most of their competitors, all Nielsen-Massey vanillas are produced using cold extraction, a process that takes considerably longer than using heat but ensures that even the subtlest flavors survive extraction.
Nielsen-Massey started out as a family company over 100 years ago, and the third generation of Nielsens runs the company today, with at least one family member being personally involved in each batch of vanilla that is produced.
Talk about an impressive commitment to quality.
After the tour, we had the chance to watch Chef Joel Reno of The French Pastry School do a baking demonstration using several of the Nielsen-Massey products.
Most of the audience was made up of students from the school, so it was especially interesting to hear the chef explain his process to a group of budding professional chefs – the nerd in me especially enjoyed hearing him talk about the ingredients and tools that most home cooks don’t usually see.
He made two desserts: first, a French macaron filled with rosewater-infused white chocolate and a raspberry jelly, which was floral and sweet and tart yet perfectly balanced, followed by a plated dessert of poached caramel apples served with saffron ice cream (yes, saffron ice cream!) and a sesame tuile.
Prior to this demo, I had never had the chance to watch a restaurant-quality dessert be assembled from start to finish, so it was fascinating watching the chef talk through his approach with the myriad of components. I can only imagine the fool expression on my face the entire time – a mixture of fascination, excitement, hunger (having not had breakfast), and jealousy that the students sitting behind me get to learn from this chef on a daily basis.
In other news, I am now accepting donations to the Send Stephie to Pastry School Fund.
So, now that I have probably made you sufficiently jealous and hungry for macarons (I’m only kind of sorry), let’s talk about Turkey Day!
Cranberries are a pretty important part of Thanksgiving.
Sure, gravy is a key player, too, but the cranberries play a big role in balancing out all of those savory flavors with their tart sweetness. Cranberry sauce is also one of the easiest things on the table to make, and yet people continue to insist on buying the canned jellied cranberry sauce.
I get it, to a point. There is a certain amount of nostalgia that goes along with the canned stuff. But…don’t you often wonder what makes it so cloyingly sweet and helps it hold the shape of the can so dang well? Seems a bit suspicious to me.
Luckily, I’ve got a solution for you: making your own jellied cranberry sauce is incredibly easy (I’m serious, this could be the simplest recipe you put on your Thanksgiving table), and, because you are making it yourself, you can easily control how sweet or tart you make it. Extra bonus? This recipe uses zero gelatin, which makes it vegan as well as gluten-free.
Look at you pleasing everyone at the table.