Vanillesoβe, German vanilla sauce is a bit like a thin custard with a wonderful, gently sweet vanilla flavor. It's the perfect addition to cakes, dumplings, fruit and more. Plus it's easy to make and great both warm or chilled.
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Depending on where you are, you'll usually have a couple of choices that are pretty much standard to go with desserts. In the US, it's usually ice cream or whipped cream, maybe both. In the UK, pouring cream is just as common as whipped (if not more so) and for particular desserts, custard is a must. In Germany, vanilla sauce is the go-to.
What is Vanillesosse?
Vanillesoβe (sometimes transcribed as Vanillesosse) literally translates as "vanilla sauce" and that is, indeed, exactly what it is. This staple German sauce is made with cream and uses real vanilla to get those wonderful flecks of seeds and delicate vanilla flavor throughout.
It's a relatively thin sauce making it great for pouring. While you do have some egg in there, it's only a little to enrich the sauce. The main thickener is corn starch (corn flour), but only a little since, as I say, it's relatively thin.
What's the difference between custard and vanilla sauce?
The main difference between custard and vanilla sauce is the consistency. Vanilla sauce is thinner and much more pourable. You can also serve vanilla sauce both cold or warm because of this. Custard, meanwhile, tends to become far too thick when cold.
Traditionally, custard also uses more egg to enrich and thicken it, though more commercial versions use corn starch (corn flour). Vanillesoβe has only a small amount of egg in there, more to enrich the flavor than thicken it.
Consistency-wise, it is similar to creme Anglaise, but your typical vanilla sauce recipe uses less eggs, and will always include corn starch while that's only sometimes in creme Anglaise.
Ingredients for German vanilla sauce
This sauce needs only a few ingredients that are mostly easy to find:
- Cream - use heavy cream/double cream for this as you are, after all, making a rich, creamy sauce so the thicker cream helps give you the right base in both flavor and texture.
- Milk - while you are balancing out the cream with some milk, I still recommend usung whole milk (full fat) for this. You want this sauce to be rich and creamy, just not quite as thick or heavy as with all cream.
- Sugar - the sauce is sweet but not overly sweet. You use just enough sugar to bring out the flavor but not take over from what you are serving it with.
- Vanilla - this is the one ingredient where I highly recommend going for good quality as it does make a difference. If at all possible, you want to use a vanilla pod for this. Using the seeds adds those lovely specks of color to the sauce and the flavor is definitely better. I know they can be expensive, or harder to find, so if you can't get one, then your next best is to use vanilla paste with seeds. It has a better flavor than vanilla extract for this. That said, vanilla extract also works if the others are not available. You could also use vanilla sugar, just reduce the sugar a little.
- Egg yolk - this adds a lovely bit of richness and slight yellow color to the sauce.
- Corn starch (corn flour) - this is to thicken the sauce. You don't need a lot as you are not making a very thick sauce.
Tips for making this sauce
This is generally a pretty easy sauce to make - you don't need any fancy tools like a double boiler, or too many steps. (You can use a double boiler if you really want to but I have never had an issue cooking directly on the stove.) That said, there are a few things worth noting or making sure you do to help ensure this works well.
Warm the liquid gradually
This isn't something to rush. Heating the liquid too quickly can mean you either burn the bottom or don't get as good a vanilla flavor as it hasn't had time to infuse. So instead, take your time and warm over a medium-low heat. Also, use a heavy-bottomed pan to help avoid the liquid burning. And a spatula is helpful to scrape down the sides.
I know, it can get a bit boring, but stirring serves two purposes. One, it ensures the liquid warms evenly. Secondly, it helps to avoid a skin forming on the top. You can stop and just stir now and then, but don't leave it for too long. If a skin forms, just mix it in - it should blend back in if thin. If it doesn't then scoop it out.
At the same time, don't stir so vigorously that it sticks to the sides - it will just dry out. Make sure you scrape down the sides now and then.
Blend the corn starch with liquid
Corn starch has a tendency to clump or not mix in fully so you always mix it with some liquid before you add it to the main sauce. Here, I mix it into the egg yolk for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you add both at the same time anyway. Secondly, the yolk is relatively thick so the corn starch separates out less with this compared to other liquid.
You may have noticed you only use egg yolks in this, not the egg whites. This means you get the benefit of the richness but without the whites that can sometimes not fully integrate and give you little eggy bits (or an eggy flavor). Breaking up the egg before you add it also helps to stop you getting lumps of egg, and mixing the corn starch into it helps as well.
Top tip: how to add egg yolk to hot liquid
Just as you don't want to add corn starch directly without blending with liquid, you also don't want to add egg yolk directly into hot liquid. You could end up with lumps of cooked egg in there by accident!
The solution - tempering. Tempering means gradually bringing the egg up to temperature. You do this by adding just a little hot liquid, mixing it in, adding a little more then adding the gently warmed egg mixture into the main warm cream.
Then, warm the liquid again but take care not to get it too hot. Just warm gently, over a medium-low heat. If it seems to be getting too hot, just take it off the stove for a minute and stir to help it cool and also still thicken. Then return to a low heat, if needed.
You might get some slight yellow dots in the mixture early on after adding the egg but don't worry, these should disappear as the sauce thickens.
If for some reason you do end up with lumps in there, don't panic - you can strain the sauce after removing from the heat. Follow these tips and hopefully it should all come out perfectly!
How to use vanilla sauce
This sauce is pretty versatile since it can be used both warm and chilled, and is pourable. It's used much as you might use cream in other cuisines. Common uses include:
- It's a classic choice to go with desserts like apple strudel or apple cake, warm or chilled.
- Use it chilled to top Rote Grütze, a lovely red berry compote/pudding.
- Serve it warm with Dampfnudel, a soft and fluffy sweet dumpling (or Germknödel, very similar but filled with plum butter/jam).
- Serve with other comforting dishes like rice pudding, bread pudding and more.
You can store it in the fridge for a couple days then either use chilled or warm it, depending on how you plan to use it.
Vanillesoβe, German vanilla sauce, is a wonderfully creamy, pourable sauce that's gently sweet and aromatic with vanilla. You can use it with so many desserts, treats and even breakfast, and homemade is definitely worth that little bit of effort. Try some and there's no looking back.
Vanillesosse (German vanilla sauce)
For vanilla sauce
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup heavy cream double cream
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- ½ vanilla pod
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch corn flour
- Put the milk, cream and sugar in a small pan and stir. Split open the half vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds into the cream mixture. Put the pod in as well and warm the mixture over a medium-low heat to bring the mixture almost to a simmer.
- Break up the egg yolk in a small bowl and mix in the cornstarch until smooth. Once the cream mixture is almost at a simmer, add a tablespoon of the warm cream to the egg yolk to temper it. Stir in then repeat another two times then tip all of the mixture back in to the cream.
- Continue to warm the cream gently, making sure it doesn't get to simmering. Warm until it starts to thicken slightly. Remove from the heat and set aside. You can make this ahead and either warm or serve it cold. If made more than around 1 hour ahead, chill and store in the fridge (can make a day or two ahead of when needed).
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