I went to Martinique — a Caribbean island that's part of the Lesser Antilles and an overseas region of France — two weeks ago for two days.
My friend found a flight deal. It was awesome, and it made me think a little about vanilla, a flavor I really only ever saw as a supporting actor to other things.
We heard that vanilla is the thing to bring back, so we visited the spice and vegetable market in Fort-de-France. I got luscious, fat vanilla beans, extract and powder, some cardamom pods and anise stars and saffron. When we came back from the beach later in the day, our airbnb room smelled like it had been washed in vanilla.
I've experimented with vanilla before, mostly by making vanilla sugar, but it's never been a focal point of any baked good I've ever made. To commemorate this trip, I made a cake that brings you vanilla in three (sort of four, with the glaze) ways, backed up by rum for good measure. You can get all these vanilla products at local specialty grocery stores.
This cake was gone within a day, so I didn't get a photo of it in all its glory. I did get a good cross-section photo, which shows you the variety of vanilla that's in it. If this is too boring for you, you can always replace the rum and extract in the glaze with lemon juice, but the vanilla flavor is complex and velvety, and wholly satisfying on its own.
Extreme vanilla cake
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/4 cups sugar
½ cup sour cream
½ cup milk (I used almond milk)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Contents from one vanilla bean
1 tsp vanilla powder
2 Tbsp cane rum
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp cane rum
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a loaf pan. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
Beat sugar, sour cream, milk, eggs, vegetable oil, vanillas and rum until well combined, either by hand or with mixer. Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.
Pour into loaf pan and bake for one hour.
To make glaze, add rum and vanilla extract to powdered sugar. When cake is cooked, flip it out of pan and just keep brushing on glaze until there's no more left to brush. I strongly suggest you serve this with vanilla ice cream.
Note about splitting vanilla bean: It's fairly easy. Use a sharp, short knife, like a paring knife, to cut down the inside of the vanilla bean. Scrape out those beautiful little seeds and use them in the cake.
You can discard the bean shell, but you can also sit it in about a cup of sugar in a cool, dark place for two weeks to make vanilla sugar, which is very worth doing.