The Unending Wonders and Experience with Vanilla Beans
Vanilla beans have a complex, yet delicate flavor that can enhance both sweet and savory dishes. Their flavor comes from the cured seed pods of various species of orchids native to Central America. While pure vanilla extract is readily available, using whole vanilla beans can provide a more nuanced and intense vanilla taste. Here are some tips for cooking and baking with these aromatic pods.
Buying Quality Vanilla Beans
Not all vanilla beans are created equal. Look for plump, oily, and supple pods that are at least 3-4 inches long. The beans should be flexible, not dried out or brittle. Try to find beans sourced from Madagascar, Uganda, Mexico, or Tahiti, which are known for quality. Avoid beans with cracks, as this indicates they are dried out. For peak freshness, purchase whole beans instead of pre-split ones.
Storing Vanilla Beans
To retain moisture and flavor, store unused vanilla beans in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Wrapping the tips in plastic wrap helps prevent them from drying out. Vanilla beans will keep for a few years stored this way. You can also store the beans in sugar, which will absorb the vanilla oils.
Preparing Vanilla Beans for Use
There are two ways to incorporate vanilla beans into cooking and baking: scraping out the seeds, or infusing the pod into a liquid.
To remove the seeds, lay the bean flat and split it lengthwise using a paring knife. Open the two sides and run the edge of the knife along the inside to scrape out the tiny black seeds. The seeds carry most of the flavor. You can add just the seeds to dishes or use both the seeds and pod.
To infuse, simply add a whole vanilla bean to heated milk, cream, sugar syrup, alcohol, or oil. Let it infuse for at least 30 minutes to infuse the flavor. Scrape the seeds into the liquid before removing the pod.
Add Intense Vanilla Flavor
The most direct way to utilize vanilla beans is by adding the seeds or pod to a dish. Here are some ways to add vanilla flavor
- Add 1-2 tsp of seeds to cookie dough, cake batter, pudding, custard, or ice cream base
- Toss the seeds into granola, sugar, or honey
- Blend seeds into smoothies or milkshakes
- Stir a whole or split bean into a pot of rice pudding or oatmeal while cooking
- Add a whole or split pod to jars of sugar or salt to infuse the contents
- Put a pod into a bottle of vodka, bourbon, rum, or brandy for a vanilla-infused liquor
- Add a split bean to poaching liquid for fruit or sweetbreads
- Infuse beans into caramel or butterscotch sauce
- Make vanilla sugar by storing pods in sugar for 1-2 months
Baking with Vanilla Beans
Nothing makes baked goods taste more sophisticated than real vanilla beans. Their complex flavor pairs wonderfully with chocolate, caramel, nuts, and fruit. Here are some baking ideas:
- Cupcakes; Swirl seeds into frosting or cake batter
- Sugar cookies; Fold seeds into dough
- Panna cotta; Infuse cream with a whole pod
- Pudding; Add both seeds and pod to the milk
- Custard; Infuse pod in cream and milk
- Cheesecake; Add seeds or whole pod to batter
- Shortbread; Fold seeds into dough
- Scones; Add seeds to dry ingredients
- Crepes; Infuse pod into the milk used to make the batter
- Whipped cream; Infuse pod in heavy cream overnight
- Fruit tarts; Add a whole pod to the pastry cream
- Souffles; Fold seeds into egg yolk base
- Mousses; Infuse pod into cream or chocolate base
While best known in sweets, vanilla beans can also enhance savory dishes. The vanilla mellows salty and spicy flavors. Here are some ways to use vanilla beans in savory cooking:
- Simmer a pod in tomato sauce or pasta sauce
- Poach fish or scallops in vanilla-infused butter or oil
- Make vanilla-scented rice by cooking rice with a pod
- Infuse vanilla beans into soup stocks
- Add vanilla to pickling brine for vegetables
- Rub a whole bean over pork or chicken before roasting
- Make vanilla-infused olive oil for drizzling over meats or vegetables
- Infuse into maple syrup to use on pancakes, waffles and French toast
In a nutshell
Add a whole or split bean to a pot of mussels or clams while cooking Vanilla beans are a secret weapon in any baker's arsenal. Their complex flavor and aroma bring warmth and depth to both sweet and savory dishes. Get the most flavor by buying quality beans and storing them properly. Then try scraping the seeds into batters and doughs, or infusing the pods into liquids. Both techniques let you experience flavors beyond pure vanilla extract. With proper care, vanilla beans will keep for years, so you can always have their magic on hand. Experience Everything with Vanilla