Today, guest editor Dorie Greenspan shares five ways to capture every last drop of flavor from vanilla beans.
Vanilla is earthy. It’s ethereal. It’s exotic. It is indispensable in some recipes and, added to others on a whim, seems indispensable. And his Dear. At least the good stuff is, and it’s the good stuff you should be using. Still. If you use vanilla extract, make sure it is pure. A good puff should either make your head spin or have you dabbing a bit behind your ears. And the beans. . . oh, the beans. Vanilla pods are the queens of the vanilla family. the not ultra of aromatization.
A good vanilla bean should be plump and supple. Dried beans won’t give you the flavor you crave (and paid for). The kernels should be moist, maybe even a little sticky, and if they have some sort of silver sheen, that’s fine.
The most coveted part of the bean is the inner pulp, but the pod also contains flavor, and even after scraping the inner seeds or poaching both the pod and the pulp, the pod has more to give.
Here are five ways to reuse leftover vanilla beans.
1. Vanilla sugar and salt
The most common use for fava beans is to dry them and bury them in a sugar pot. Or, better yet, dry the pods and blend them in a blender or food processor with sugar. The same technique will give you something more unusual: vanilla salt, a flavoring you can use in cookies – use it in or on chocolate chip, caramel or chocolate chip cookies – caramels, puddings, etc. . Put the spent pods in a salt shaker or jar filled with kosher salt and let them sit around for a few weeks. Of course, salt is also good on the salty side: try it on roasted carrots, lobster, shrimp or sweet potatoes. If you want to do it all, mix the dried cloves with sea salt, then mix that salt with fleur de sel or flake salt. As a general rule, use vanilla sugar or salt in place of the regular version in any recipe. Use it to salt the rim of a margarita glass for an unexpected sweet flavor that will touch your lips. Stir vanilla sugar into your coffee or roll sugar cookie dough balls in it before baking.
Every few days, shake the jar of sugar or salt to make sure the vanilla flavor is evenly dispersed throughout the mixture. Oh, and don’t think you have to use white sugar. Coconut sugar, palm sugar, and even brown sugar will all benefit from the extra punch.
2. Pierced and poached fruit
The pods – dried or fresh – are ideal for poaching fruit. To get the most flavor out of the pods and into the fruit, poke the pods through the fruit – think of a skewer – and poach them. Vanilla is wonderful with almost any stone fruit as well as apples, pears and prunes. Oh, and don’t forget to save the syrup. Depending on the spices you added, it might be nice to sweeten the tea, serve it over ice cream, or poach more fruit.
3. Homemade extract
The traditional way to make vanilla extract is to start with fresh pods, slice them lengthwise, and dip them in vodka, counting 3-4 pods to about 1 cup of alcohol . Put the ingredients in a glass jar, shake, then store in a cool, dark place for a few months (or longer), shaking whenever you remember. But you can do the same with spent beans or pods. You may not have the required number of beans at first, but start with what you have and keep adding to the pot, using an extra bean or two (to make up for the expense). And for a different, slightly richer flavor, try making the extract with Cognac.
4. Flavored coffee and tea
If you like vanilla coffee, save your pods to stir your Joe. Or add a pod to your coffee beans and grind them together. My own preference is to steep the used pod in tea. The best? Vanilla chai tea; honey too.
5. Bath salts
This great idea comes from my assistant, Mary Dodd. She chops old vanilla pods, mixes them with Epsom salts, adds a touch of vanilla extract, and offers bath salts that are extremely aromatic, soothing, and good for whatever may be ailing you.
6. Vanilla oil
This idea comes from our friends at Beyond Good. To make vanilla oil, heat a light, neutral oil like vegetable oil, olive oil, or even coconut oil in a saucepan. You don’t want it to sizzle, just make it hot enough to make steeping easier. Place a spent, split vanilla bean in a heatproof glass jar. Once the oil is hot, pour it slowly and carefully into the pot above the pod – wait until the oil has reached room temperature before putting the lid on. Let it steep for at least a few days, then use it whenever a recipe calls for oil, such as salad dressings and marinades, or even brownies.