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Recently, a delightful package of vanilla beans arrived at my door. A friend referred me to a reputable vanilla retailer on ebay. She told me that I could by more than 2 dozen vanilla beans for the price I was paying for 6 at the grocery store. I know! It sounds ludicrous to order anything food related from a yet unknown shop on ebay, but how could I resist?! Being that this particular friend happens to be an awesome baker, I shelved my skepticism, took the plunge and placed an order for 1/4 pound of 6″ Grade A Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla beans.
But wait! That’s not all! Because my order was over $10, they shipped 10 Tahitian Grade B Vanilla beans with my order–for free.
I love free stuff!
Especially free vanilla beans! I learned quite a bit about vanilla beans when deciding what type of beans to order. For instance, did you know that each vanilla bean plant must pollinated by hand before it will grow beans? The mature beans aren’t the dark shriveled beans in the photo, but more resemble giant green beans.
Once mature, the beans are picked, steamed, then dried, at which point they look like the long brown beans that we are accustomed to seeing. Gourmet, Prime, and Grade A beans are preferred by chefs because they contain more moisture than extract grade beans. Extract grade beans (Grade B or <) are good for extracts, and cooking.
So what does one do with 30 or so vanilla beans?
Well, if you’re like me, this! I made homemade vanilla syrup and homemade vanilla extract. Fabulous!
Or there is Vanilla Sugar, which is awesome when used in place of plain granulated sugar in just about anything.
I used Vanilla Sugar in these awesome Vanilla-Raspberry Muffins, which have a moist, almost pound cake consistency. They were quite lovely.
I maybe-kinda-sorta made a batch or two of creme brulee, too. As well as a few batches of Chocolate Loves Vanilla Cupcakes–just for good measure.
It’s been all vanilla, all the time around here.
Please send help.
And you might want to bring a fork.
Oh! About that vanilla syrup…it’s To.Die.For. in a chai or a latte. Just sayin’.
And I still have loads of beans left to play around with! Vanilla beans will keep indefinitely if stored triple-wrapped in heavy duty storage bags. Think of the possibilities!
Perhaps even better than all of the homemade possibilities afforded by a slew of vanilla beans is the ease in which they can all be made. Here’s how:
For Vanilla Syrup:
Make a simple syrup by combining 1 cup of granulated sugar with a cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Continue to boil for about 5 minutes, or until mixture starts to thicken slightly. Remove from heat and allow syrup to cool. This will yield about 1 1/4 cups of simple syrup.
Split 5 extract grade vanilla beans lengthwise down their centers.
Pour 1 cup of the cooled simple syrup into a mason jar, and place the split vanilla beans inside, making sure that the beans are completely submerged in the syrup so that they don’t dry out. Cap the jar, and put it in a dark cupboard for at least 2 weeks before using. Just look at all the flecks of vanilla caviar floating around in there…good things are going to happen in that jar.
The syrup will have a rich vanilla flavor and have darkened nicely after a few weeks. Spoon vanilla syrup into the hot morning beverage of your choice for a sweet start to the day.
For Vanilla Extract:
Pour 1 1/2 cups of vodka into a large jar. (Bourbon or whiskey can also be used, but will give the extract a stronger alcohol flavor.) Don’t freak out about the alcohol! Store bought vanilla extract is mostly alcohol, with corn syrup, vanilla, and often, food coloring added. The alcohol in the minute amounts of extract required for baking will bake off in the oven.
Add 4 to 6 tablespoons of simple syrup to the vodka and stir. Use some of the simple syrup you made for the Vanilla Syrup, or just use the Vanilla Syrup.
Submerge 6 whole vanilla beans into the mixture, cap the jar, and store in a dark cupboard for one month before using. That’ll give the vanilla beans enough time to properly infuse the extract with flavor.
Are you wondering why I split the vanilla beans for the syrup, but not for the extract? There is a method to my madness. I split the vanilla beans for the syrup because I wanted to infuse the flavor more quickly so that I could use it sooner. I also don’t mind vanilla bean flecks in tea, coffee, or latte. I did not split the beans in the extract because I would be using that for baking, and I may not want vanilla bean flecks to be visible in every baked good.
For Vanilla Sugar:
Split a couple of vanilla beans and remove the caviar for use in another recipe.
Then bury them in a cup or two of granulated sugar that has been put into a resealable container. I love these little round containers with the screw-on lids.
Seal the container, and leave it on the counter for a week or more. Give it a shake when you think about it to keep the sugar from clumping. After a week, use the vanilla sugar in place of plain ol’ granulated sugar for an extra punch of flavor in just about anything.
What would you do with a bunch of vanilla beans? I have a lot of them left, so I would love to hear your ideas.
Simple Vanilla Syrup
Yields 1 ¼ Cups
A simple, homemade vanilla syrup makes it so easy to bring experience all the luxury of a coffee shop latte at home.
Prep Time: 8 minutes, Cook Time: 8 minutes, Total Time: 16 minutes
1 C. water
1 C. granulated sugar
5 extract grade vanilla beans
- Make a simple syrup by combining 1 cup of granulated sugar with a cup of water in a small saucepan.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently.
- Continue to boil for about 5 minutes or until mixture starts to thicken slightly.
- Remove from heat and allow syrup to cool.
- Split 5 extract grade vanilla beans lengthwise down their centers.
- Pour 1 cup of the cooled simple syrup into a mason jar, and place the split vanilla beans inside, making sure that the beans are completely submerged in the syrup so that they don’t dry out.
- Cap the jar, and put it in a dark cupboard for at least 2 weeks before using.
- For a sweet start to the day, stir a little vanilla syrup into the hot morning beverage of your choice. Or, syrup can be drizzled over fresh fruit, ice cream, or other desserts.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Yields just over 1 ½ Cups
Incredibly economical and so much richer than store bought vanilla extract.
Prep Time: 5 minutes, Cook Time: 0 minutes, but requires a 30 day steeping period, Total Time: 30 days, 5 minutes
1 ½ C. vodka
6 Tbs. simple syrup or vanilla syrup
6 whole vanilla beans
- Pour 1 1/2 cups of vodka into a large jar. (Bourbon or whiskey can be used, but will give a stronger alcohol flavor to the extract.)
- Add 6 tablespoons of simple syrup to the vodka and stir. (Simple syrup is made by boiling equal parts water & granulated sugar for about 5 minutes.)
- Submerge 6 whole vanilla beans into the mixture, cap the jar, and store in a dark cupboard for one month before using. That’ll give the vanilla beans enough time to properly infuse the extract with flavor.
- Extract will keep indefinitely if kept tightly closed in a dark cupboard.
- Use homemade vanilla extract in equal parts in place of store bought extracts in your favorite recipes.
Recipe Notes - for a nearly bottomless supply of vanilla extract, simply add more vodka to the top of the extract in the jar when running low, give it a good shake, and return it to the cupboard. Additional vanilla syrup should be added after every third replenishment of vodka or so. If replenished frequently, no additional steeping time is required before use. Homemade Vanilla Extract makes a great gift when steeped in decorative glass jars or bottles. Extract becomes more rich flavorful over time.
Yields 2 Cups
Gently aromatic vanilla flavor is infused throughout sweet sugar crystals to add extra vanilla punch to any recipe.
Prep Time: Cook Time: 3 minutes, 1 week steeping time, Total Time: 1 week, 3 minutes
2 C. granulated sugar
2 vanilla beans
- Pour granulated sugar into a resealable container.
- Submerge the vanilla beans in the sugar. (The caviar from the beans can be removed for use in another recipe prior to this step.)
- Seal the container, and leave it on the counter for a week or more. Give it a shake whenever you think about it to keep the sugar from clumping.
- After a week, use the vanilla sugar in place of granulated sugar for an extra punch of flavor in just about anything. Vanilla sugar will keep for two weeks or more if kept in a tightly sealed container.
Sweet vanilla flavor permeates every layer of flavor in these the muffins, which are further accentuated with the slight tang of fresh raspberries.
Prep Time: 20 minutes, Cook time: 18 minutes, Total Time: 38 minutes
For Vanilla Sugar:
1 C. granulated sugar
1 whole vanilla bean
1 C. vanilla sugar (see above)
½ C. (8 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened
2 C. all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. baking powder
¾ tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 C. buttermilk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pint fresh raspberries
1 ½ Tbs. half & half
2 Tbs. granulated sugar
To make vanilla sugar:
- Pour sugar into an airtight container.
- Place vanilla bean in the sugar.
- Seal the container, set on countertop, and all vanilla bean to permeate sugar for 2 days.
- After 2 days, remove the vanilla bean and save (tightly wrapped) for another use.
To make muffins:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Spray 18 muffin cups with baking spray; set aside.
- Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium sized bowl, until blended.
- Use an electric mixer to cream together butter and vanilla sugar until fluffy.
- Add in egg, mixing until combined.
- Pour in buttermilk and vanilla. Continue mixing until fully incorporated.
- Add flour mixture in two separate additions, stirring after each until just combined.
- Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each ½ full. Place 2-3 raspberries on top of the batter in each muffin cup.
- Bake at 375 degrees until muffins are lightly browned around the edges, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (About 15-18 minutes.)
- Cool in muffin pans for 2 minutes. Transfer muffins from pans to a wire rack.
- Brush tops of warm muffins with half & half, then sprinkle them with more vanilla sugar.
- Allow muffins to completely cool. Store leftover muffins in an airtight container in the refrigerator.