As I mentioned in yesterdays post, vanilla beans are good to have around. Yes, they are expensive, though I recommend shopping around for them to find the best prices. Often you can find them in the bulk section of the store for cheaper than the pre packaged ones. Still, you want to get your money’s worth. When using vanilla beans, it will often require you to scrape the seeds out and discard the pod though, often times you will steep the pod too as it has tons of flavour. Once you have scraped the pods, keep them in a sealed mason jar. Once you have 10- 12, fill the jar with vodka to make vanilla extract. I have mostly seen bourbon in stores lately, which is fine too, it will just transfer more flavour to the vanilla, where vodka is almost tasteless. Let the jar sit, tightly sealed in your cupboard for several weeks, shaking every once in a while.
You can also use the pod to flavour sugar. Just drop it into an air tight container of sugar and shake every few days. After a couple weeks, you should have vanilla scented sugar. For a faster fix, put it all in your food processor and blend the bean into a fine crumb in the sugar.
Simmering the pods in a pot to release the scent or drop it into coffee or another beverage to add flavour. What ever you do, it will be tasty.
Vanilla paste is a combination of extract and seeds which can be a great compromise to beans. When using extract, there is a huge difference between real and imitation. I like to keep both white and dark on hand. White vanilla extract is good for using in recipes where you don’t want the extract to colour them, like icing. Again, I only keep real extract, not imitation.