Vanessa Chang
(A Glutton with Brains)


a glutton with brains

How To: Make Vanilla Sugar


For the love of God, don't throw away vanilla beans (or pods) after one use. It's a far more resilient thing thanks to its curing and aging. It did after all, survive the trek half way around the world and still manages to be fragrant and good mood-inducing. But especially, it would be a waste to those who had to hand-pick each pod from the tropical hanging orchids in order for you to flavor that custard or poaching liquid.

Doesn't matter if you've scraped out the paste-like pulp of the microscopic beans. The pod, too, has got loads of aroma. I wince everytime I see anyone throw away the hollowed out, earth brown bean as if it were some rotten banana peel. These vanilla pods are as underrated as cilantro and parsley stems. An afterthought at best. But it's the source of more vanilla flavor than you can imagine.

I see the kitchen catalogs with shiny new things that I can no longer afford. For the most part, they're a waste of money filled with the impractical and downright silly. But the thrill of shopping and getting new things is irresistible, I know. It must be how people feel when they order a pack of vanilla sugar, ready made.

That, I never did. Back in the day, I would buy vanilla beans to use in my recipes and a few extra for my vanilla sugar. Daddy Warbucks, me. I spent the extra dough, but it was to make my own. These days, I recycle the vanilla bean better than I do the household magazines.

The process is simple and rather gratifying:

1.) Take a vanilla bean, scraped clean or not. Pat it dry if it's been sitting in liquid. I like to bruise it a bit with the spine (non-sharp side of the blade) to release more of the essential oils and chemical compounds that make it so lovely. If you get a dry, brittle bean as I did (clearance price), bash it a bit to bruise and reinvigorate the scent. I like to break it into smaller pieces. The more surface area the better.

2.) Put some granulated sugar into a jar, bowl, whatever container you have. Add the tampered-with vanilla beans and shake or stir to get it worked in there. Keep it covered and everyday or so, agitate the sugar again. The vanilla bean can be rather moist and that can make the sugar cake. If you don't shake, you may end up with a brick of sugar. Very hard to use, albeit sweet and fragrant.

3.) After about two weeks, I call it done and use it for poaching liquids, baked goods, coffee, hot chocolate and fresh fruit. Feel free to replenish the sugar levels as you go. The black specks within the white grains are a good thing.

Vanilla sugar and fresh sliced strawberries are magic. One of my favorite desserts or filling for scones and biscuits. A winning combination of a recipe is up next, part of a mid-week dinner to summon Spring with all my kitchen might.

And, if you're wondering, you can make your own vanilla extract, too. Follow the recipe above, replacing the sugar with a hard liquor. Vodka, cognac, brandy. Last batch was bourbon and it is mighty fine. Remember to shake the brewing extract as well and replenish with fresh liquor as you run low. It's the neverending extract bottle.