It’s really easy! Homemade vanilla sugar carries complex earthy tones in its aroma. This is perfect to add to coffee, breakfast oatmeal/cereal, fresh fruit or sprinkle atop a dessert pie.
In Sweden, commercial vanilla sugar is much stronger, sharper in flavour and commonly used in baking. The product is usually a mix of confection sugar and potato starch, flavoured with synthetic vanillin. Some people are so used to commercial vanilla sugar that they find real vanilla too subtle or plain bland.
Makes 1 cup vanilla sugar.
Instructions come with two options on grounding down the harvested bean shell. The universal rule “no free lunch” is true here. Option 1 is easier and yields coarser shell fragments while option 2 is more tedious but yields a fine powder and small fragments.
You will need:
240 ml or 200 g raw cane sugar
(It tastes softer than white sugar from the sugar beet.)
1 vanilla bean, ~4-5 g
(You might like to buy organic and Fair Trade Madagascan bourbon vanilla beans from me!)
Sharp knife and cutting board
Electric food processor
Clean air-tight jar
(Check that it smells clean and neutral, not like this morning’s bacon.)
Oven, baking sheet and tray
Mortar and pestle
(What did you last ground in there? It pays to check if it tastes like chili!)
Set aside sugar in the food processor.
Run the back of the knife along the length of the bean.
(This aligns and flattens out the bean for slicing.)
Grip the hooked end of the bean and slice it along its length into two halves.
(Alternative: Slice the bean along its length just enough to open it up. This allows you to scrap out the whole bean in one motion instead of repeating for both halves.)
With the sharp edge of the knife, scrape out seeds aka vanilla caviar. Finger-rub it into the sugar.
(Alternative: Toss the sugar and lump of caviar into the food processor and blend. Much easier on your fingers if you’re making a large batch!)
Use a pair of scissors to cut up the spent bean shell into 0.5-1cm pieces.
Option 1 (Frying Pan Method, yields coarser shell fragments)
Set up frying pan on medium heat.
Toast bean shell in the hot pan for 1-2 minutes.
The shell will become warm and aromatic. Remove from pan.
Add bean shell to the blended sugar in the food processor and blend. The presence of sugar helps to cut up the shell into smaller pieces.
Pour the mix into the jar and screw on the lid tightly. Let stand for 2 weeks for vanilla flavour to fully-infuse into the sugar.
Note: Depending on your blender and the dryness of the vanilla bean, some shell segments may not be pulverized. Personally that doesn’t bother me, but one can picked/sieve out the larger pieces for other recipes.
Option 2 (Oven Method, yields finer shell fragments)
Pre-heat oven and tray at 75 degC.
Place the shell pieces on a baking sheet in the oven. Spread the pieces out so they warm up quickly and evenly.
Bake with oven door open. Check for dryness of shell bits.
(If you are worried about over-baking the bean shell, you can lower oven temperature to 50 degC.)
Remove shell bits from oven when they become dry and brittle.
(Brittle = You can bend and break a piece between fingers.)
Place 1 tbsp of shell bits in a mortar and crush with pestle.
Sift out the pulverized shell into the vanilla sugar. Collect the larger pieces and ground one more time.
Re-bake large bean pieces in oven. Remove when brittle and ground it down again.
(This second time round, you should be able to ground down every piece of shell to <1mm size.)
Mix the shell powder well with your vanilla sugar. Your sugar would look browner than before, with lovely dots of caviar and pulverized shell. Pour it into an air-tight jar and screw on the lid tightly. Let stand for 2 weeks for vanilla flavour to fully-infuse into the sugar.
Bake your jars and boil the lids to deodorize them. (Wouldn’t it be nice if your vanilla sugar doesn’t smell like pickles? 😉 )
If your vanilla bean is pretty dry to start out with, you can skip the toasting step, and your vanilla sugar will probably taste just as good! Simply blend shell segments as it is with the seed-sugar mixture.
Do you have leftover spent vanilla bean shells after your baking projects?
Save the harvested beans in a cool dry spot and use them later for vanilla sugar! Give your next batch an extra boost with the harvested bean shells.
If you’re giving this away as gifts, consider adding an extra halved-bean buried in the sugar. It will boost its flavour and look very pretty!