Last year, I set out to make my gift giving even easier than baking a ton of cookies and passing out tins. I found a site, that I can't seem to find again, that had a list of a ton of things you can make in jars and give as gifts; things like muffin or cookies mixes, spice rubs, hot chocolate. Among them was this little gem: vanilla sugar. I had never heard of it before and the recipe is incredibly easy. I couldn't find any vanilla beans, however, so that instantly took it off my 'easy to make' list. But I spent the next year casually searching for a store that carried vanilla beans, knowing full well I could have just ordered them online and been done with it.
My mother, who I had informed that I was hunting for vanilla beans, found some at Mom's Organic Market. Based on her description, it was one whole bean cut in half for $6. She also found them at Costco, of all places, 10 whole long beans for $11. I'll take it! I already had mason jars on hand from an earlier concoction, and two unopened bags of granulated sugar (not including the open bags!) in the pantry. The recipe I followed called for one bean to two cups of sugar. My jars held almost exactly that, but I used just a touch less than two cups of sugar so there was room to shake things up to mix.
|Gather your beans!|
Next, you want to remove the seeds. I was expecting vanilla to be something like green beans: a long bean pod with little beans. Not so. It's more like sticky black dust. Again, use the back of your knife to scrape off the seeds.
Good vanilla beans should be moist and fragrant, not dry. The moisture made the tiny seeds very very sticky. They stuck to the cutting board, the knife, and my fingers. It made me think of glitter and how it gets everywhere!
|A pile of tiny, sticky seeds|
I then sliced the bean in half, so they would fit better in my jars, and put the bean and seeds in the jar. If you use raw vanilla seeds for cooking, save your bean pods! You can throw them in your sugar without the seeds and they will still impart their lovely vanilla flavor.
|In the jar|
For my first jar, I put the vanilla seeds and bean in the jar and poured the sugar over it, mixing occasionally. The seeds will clump together though. In subsequent batches, I slowly poured my sugar into a measuring cup and mixed the seeds with my knife as best I could. Then that mixture gets poured over the beans in the jar.
|There's sugar in the jar!|
Next, cap your jar, give the thing a shake and leave it to marinate! It is recommended to shake the jar periodically so the seeds and vanilla flavor from the bean get distributed thoroughly. According to my readings, it will take about two weeks for the vanilla to permeate through the sugar and be ready for use.
|Jars of vanilla sugar!|
You can add more sugar to your jar as it starts to get low and shake it up every now and then to mix and incorporate the flavor. Some sites say the beans should be replaced every two years and some say they can stay in the sugar indefinitely. My beans had a two year expiration date, so I'll probably follow that. We'll see how it goes.
I'm excited to try my new sugar! But I have to give it time to get to its full flavor. Some of these jars are probably going to end up as gifts. I need to make some labels. And I still have five beans left, but I'm out of jars! I think I'll try vanilla extract with the rest of my beans.
I know this isn't actually a cake, but it could be used in cake. That counts, right?