In many of the recipes I develop, I often call for vanilla beans. Their best quality, aside from flavor, is their ability to impart any plain panna cotta, cake, or ice cream with a pleasing, speckled appearance, thanks to the seeds within the vanilla bean itself. And unlike vanilla extract, which is made from soaking vanilla beans in alcohol for several weeks, the seeds from the bean carry a noticeably different, more refined vanilla flavor and aroma.
To get at those precious seeds couldn’t be simpler: Hold one end of the bean on a cutting board with your finger, and using a paring knife, insert the tip of the knife on the bean just below where your finger is holding it. Keeping pressure steady, slide the knife down the length of the bean until the end, splitting it in half. Then, turn the knife over and place the blunt side of the blade against your finger and, pressing down, rake the knife down the length of the bean to remove the seeds; repeat with the other half of the bean.
Once these seeds are out, they have endless uses: toss them in cake batter, pie dough, cookies, muffins, frostings, milkshakes or ice cream. I substitute about 1 vanilla bean for every tablespoon of vanilla extract, so use that as a guide as to how much to use in your favorite recipes.
Also, those spent beans? Place them in a 1-quart resalable plastic container and cover with granulated sugar. Let the sugar sit for about 1 month, shaking it around the bean every couple days, and you’ll have your own perfumed, homemade vanilla sugar, perfect for using in your baking recipes, or for stirring in coffee, adding to whipped cream, or sprinkling on top of muffins for a refined crunch.
Here are some Special Fork recipes that use vanilla beans:
- Rice Pudding
- Strawberry Streusel Mini Muffins
- Late Summer Fruit Salad with Vanilla Honey Dressing
- Cacao Nib Streusel
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