Spain's ruinous Hernán Cortés, for instance, encountered the bean among the Aztecs nearly 500 years ago. It would come to be called vainilla, the diminutive form of the Spanish vaina, from the Latin vagina, which means "sheath." So intoxicated was he by this pod that, as the story goes, he brought it back to Europe along with gold, silver, jewels, and—you guessed it—chocolate. In fact, Cortés had his first taste of vanilla as flavoring in the Aztec drink xocolatl. Is it surprising that the histories of chocolate and vanilla turn out to be as intertwined as a soft-serve twist cone?

I recount all this to my husband, for whom it only proves vanilla's role as chocolate's perpetual sidekick. He's lying in bed next to me, studying a chocolate body-frosting kit that someone has sent us as a kind of romantic joke: You're supposed to stencil your lover's body with sexy sayings and then lick them off, but my own lover jokes that he's just going to snip open the pouch and squeeze all the frosting into his mouth. I can't help feeling that vanilla is subtler somehow. There's a musky, floral flavor you can't always put your finger on—the softness underlying the chill in a minty cordial, for instance, or the dreamy, exotic fragrance in sautéed shrimp. You have to make these dishes extradelicious, of course, to placate the chocolate lovers—like the friend who smacked her lips over the panna cotta before saying, "Wow, you know what would make this even better?" Mm hmm.

Of course, that's just how I feel now in bed, about the chocolate tattoos. "You know what I'd love?" I say, picturing them creamy and aromatic instead of deep and chocolaty, and my husband says, "I do." Then he tears open the packet with his teeth and starts to write v-a-n-i-...

Chocolate Nests with White Chocolate-Vanilla Candies Get the recipes:
Sexy vanilla desserts


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