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I love vanilla. Other people get wild over chocolate or strawberry, but for me nothing beats the flavor of vanilla. And the thing is, I am kind of a snob about it. Vanilla extract might be good for some people, but for me, only vanilla beans will do. Now, if I win the lottery, I plan to buy a whole case of vanilla beans, but for now I need to stretch the beans I have as far as possible. That’s why I started making vanilla sugar. I use it in place of granulated sugar in all my recipes and it adds a great vanilla flavor. Even if you aren’t much of a baker—try it once in your coffee or tea and you’ll be hooked.
A few years ago I was fortunate enough to travel to Costa Rica and tour a sustainable and organic vanilla bean and spice farm, Villa Vanilla. It was a fascinating place to visit—educational, fun, and delicious. The beans they grow there put the beans at my local grocery store to shame and have only elevated my vanilla snobbery to new heights. The trip reinforced the golden rule of vanilla bean shopping: When buying beans, make sure they’re fresh! They should not be dried up and shriveling—fresh beans are much easier to scrape the seeds from, and have more flavor.
The first step in vanilla sugar is removing the seeds from the fresh vanilla bean. It’s easy: Start by simply slicing the vanilla beans down the center to gently split them open. Then remove the seeds by using scraping the inside of the bean with the dull side of a paring knife.
Transfer the seeds to the bowl of sugar and rub the inside of the bean with sugar to help remove any additional seeds. Every seed counts—each one packs a flavorful punch—and the sugar’s abrasive crystals help drag them out.
Once I’ve combined the sugar, seeds, and beans, I transfer them to an airtight container. Just about two weeks later, I’ve got my favorite vanilla-infused secret ingredient.