Vanilla beans are pricey, but they’re well worth it. Especially if you consider what they are: the hand-pollinated, hand-picked, cured, dried and fermented fruit of an orchid. One of the ways to get the most out of every Mexican, Tahitian or Bourbon-Madagascar bean is to save the pods–after you’ve scraped the seeds from them or finished steeping them in your creme Anglaise–and make vanilla sugar. To do this, simply rinse the pods of any lingering custard or sauce, let them sit out to dry somewhere where they won’t be mistakenly thrown away, and then bury them in your sugar bowl. Over time, the scent and flavor of vanilla permeate the sugar. You can just leave the pods in the sugar bowl, replentishing the sugar when needed, and adding more vanilla to the bowl when you have it. Or you can put the contents of the whole bowl in a food processor and grind the sugar with the pods. Depending on how many pods you have, you can get something very vanilla-y, with the bits of pod giving more color and texture (and flavor) than vanilla sugar which has simply absorbed the flavor. I like to use this kind of vanilla sugar when making Chantilly cream, since I like the little flecks. The sugar is also really fun to brulee with–just sprinkle the sugar over the top of custards or halved peaches and get out the blow torch.
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