On Vanilla-thons, Gluten-Free Baking & Empathy

by kellybakes in , , ,

vanilla currant scones

Hello. My name is Kelly and I suffer from chronic empathy. Okay, so maybe 'suffer' is a bit harsh, but it is fair to say that sometimes my overwhelming desire to relate to others has caused me a bit of pain. My earliest empathetic memory stems from third grade: I would lie to my friends about the A's I got on tests and say that I got far lower marks so that they wouldn't feel so bad about their own exams. It continued well into adulthood, as I made friends by sharing embarrassing stories to put new friends at ease. I'm self-deprecating because I like you. I overshare because I'm excited to have something in common with you. Take it as a compliment!

Though most of my shared sentiments have come from effort on my part--searching my brain for common ground and scouring my memory for connections--it's even better when mutual feelings and experiences arise organically. This weekend, for example, I had the pleasure of baking with Laura of Mother Would Know. Last fall, we split an order of vanilla beans and embarked upon an extract making adventure for the ages. Four different kinds of beans and the promise to hold a baking extravaganza at the end of the waiting period, once our extracts had steeped, so to speak.

vanilla extract

Delays got in the way and our vanillathon was postponed, but it was worth the wait when it finally happened. We did some recipe testing for a fellow blogger with some not so perfect results, and, in enduring everything from disastrous hardened sugar to streaky deflated cupcakes, it was nice to know that other bloggers don't get things right on the first try (or the third).

vanilla cupcake

We also made pots de creme and vanilla current scones with two different varieties of vanilla--Indonesian and Madagascar. The winner was unanimously Indonesian. It had a pungent, bold aroma and a strong presence when baked and in recipes where the flavor had the opportunity to shine.  I'm so used to being the only one in my kitchen that it was wonderful to compare opinions on taste, technique and texture. Though Laura's husband Kevin was kind enough to try all of our baked goods (including the wonky partially underdone cupcakes), it was comforting to bake with Laura because her agreement reaffirmed the opinions I held on baking and each type of vanilla bean. I'm so grateful for her hospitality, especially for letting me into her gorgeous kitchen and for putting me at ease by saying she wasn't the neatest baker (phew! glad I'm not alone!).

vanilla currant scones

And, in keeping on this theme of empathy, I'd like to announce that May's recipes will be solely gluten-free. As I mentioned in my last post, I'm taking a gluten-free baking class and as I listen to the stories of my classmates who have to be gluten-free, I can't help but want to empathize with them. So, for the entire month of May, this blog will be [mostly] gluten-free. (I say only because I'm going to two food blogging conferences and, at the time of registering, I didn't check off any dietary needs, but I'll certainly be mindful of what I eat while I'm there). I want to experience what it's like to go out to eat and wonder if I can order anything sans-gluten or to go grocery shopping and be extra diligent about reading and evaluating labels. And, baking gf outside of class will only help me to be a better student in class. Most of all, I'm looking to post recipes that are indiscernibly gluten-free and of course, delicious. I hope at the end of this month, I'll have a deeper understanding of what gluten intolerant folks have to live with every day, and open my eyes to other ways of baking. There may even be baking for multiple food sensitivities. We'll see!