This recipe for Vanilla Bean Blood Orange Mini Loaves turned into The Great Ingredient Improvisation Experiment. I didn’t have all the ingredients, so I had to wing it a little, and once I was winging it, I started adding in some things too. The results were incontrovertible: a perfect soft crumb, and an ideal flavor balance between the sweet vanilla and the zing of the blood orange. You could definitely use regular oranges for this one, but I recommend giving blood oranges a try before they go completely out of season.
I started by scraping out the vanilla bean, doing my best to keep it from getting under my fingernails. It’s a messy business, but there’s really nothing like the flavor you get from a real bean. If you’re making this, and you’re improvising too, this is the one thing you shouldn’t compromise on; you can’t get that same boost from extract or paste.
The recipe called for regular oranges, but since there are only a few weeks left in blood orange season, I wanted to use them. I juiced & zested them, and started fretting that after the last orange had been squeezed, I still didn’t quite have half a cup of juice. I also didn’t have orange extract, so I did my best to make up for both with extra zest. I ended up using everything I could get from three blood oranges, and threw that into a bowl with the almost half cup of juice, vanilla bean, Greek yogurt, coconut oil, sugar, and vanilla bean paste. The recipe called for three egg whites, but since I only had two eggs on hand and didn’t feel like venturing out into the cold, I used one full egg and one white. And hoped for the best.
I had melted the coconut oil, but I think I let it sit too long before I whisked, so I threw in about half a tablespoon more, worried that the hard bits would stick to the side of the bowl and not make it into the batter. It looked a lot less bloody once it was all whisked together, changing from creepy and menacing to pinkish and innocuous.
In another bowl I combined the dry ingredients: whole wheat pastry flour, whole wheat white flour, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. The cinnamon wasn’t in the recipe, but I like cinnamon.
And I nervously combined the two.
I scraped the batter into three mini loaf pans, and sprinkled the tops with cinnamon-sugar. (More cinnamon is good, right?)
I put them into the oven, and hoped for the best. I had my doubts about them. I’d skipped the orange extract and not had enough juice, I’d added a lot of zest and thrown in some cinnamon, I messed with the eggs, and upped the coconut oil. What was I doing? You’re not really supposed to play with recipes like this until you’ve made them at least once, and vanilla beans can be expensive. But the deed was done. I crossed my fingers.
Well, not really. What I really did was do the dishes, and try not to peek at what was happening in the oven.
I checked on them at 30 minutes, and they were done. They smelled heavenly, a perfect combination of orange and vanilla.
I gave them another 10 minutes in the pans, then popped them out.
I distracted myself with a mini Star Trek: Voyager binge on Netflix until I felt they had cooled enough to offer themselves up for tasting. A tentative bite became another bite and before I knew it, I’d eaten two slices. The real test came about ten minutes later when the kids got home and immediately asked what the lovely smell was. They took bites, asked for more, and asked for more again. Success!
VANILLA BEAN ORANGE LOAF BREAD RECIPE (original)
My version of Vanilla Bean Blood Orange Mini Loaves (adapted from Peanut Butter and Peppers)
1 cup 2% Greek yogurt, plain
½ cup cane sugar
½ cup fresh squeezed blood orange juice (I was a little short so I added more zest)
2 1/2 tablespoons melted coconut oil (or 2 tablespoons canola oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or extract, but paste is preferable)
zest of 3 blood oranges (can reduce slightly if you use more juice)
1 vanilla bean, scraped
1 egg white
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup whole wheat white flour
1/3 cup wheat germ
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
cinnamon-sugar or turbinado for sprinkling on top (optional)
Heat oven to 350 degrees and spray or grease 3 mini loaf pans (or one 9” x 5” loaf pan).
Zest and juice the blood oranges, and scrape out the vanilla bean.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the yogurt, oil, sugar, egg, egg white, vanilla bean paste, juice, zest, and scraped vanilla bean.
In a large bowl, combine the flours, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt, and cinnamon. Whisk thoroughly. Make a well in the center.
Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, stirring slowly, and stopping as soon as all ingredients are incorporated. Don’t overdo it.
Scoop the batter into mini loaf pans and smooth batter with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. If desired, sprinkle lightly with cinnamon-sugar or turbinado sugar.
Bake for 30-35 minutes if making mini loaves, 50-60 for a full size loaf. (My mini loaves were done right at 30.)
Let cool in the pan for ten minutes, then remove to a wire rack.