Don’t Waste Vanilla Leftovers on Sugar

I don’t know if it was rain, wind, or the fact that Bake-Off is back, but recently I struggled with the urge to bake. This led to the fact that I actually made exactly one batch of potato chip cookies , yes, but it mostly translates to what I read about baking. Most of it was written by Stella “The Bravetart” Parks of Serious Eats.

It’s impossible to read Park’s article and not come to a new understanding of not only how to do something, but also why you do it . The same can be said for her tweets over the years, such as the following:

Throwing used vanilla pods in a jar of sugar is an old, often suggested “trick” with a simple premise: after scrubbing the insides of expensive vanilla pods, you drop the empty pod into a bowl of sugar, and then the sugar will absorb the vanilla flavor.

This, as Parks points out in his tweet, is sheer stupidity. Solid crystallized sugar cannot extract water-soluble (or ethanol-soluble) compounds. A jar of sugar will give off a lovely vanilla flavor when you open it, but the sugar crystals will not have a vanilla flavor .

If you want to make real vanilla sugar, you’ll have to mix the insides of the beans with a little sucrose (a food processor can help distribute the sticky seeds). And if you want to extract flavor from a peeled pod, you will have to add a little dairy, water, or alcohol.

Parkes has many suggestions for what to do with these flavored husks, but my usual strategy for softening spent pods is to cook a vanilla fernet, which involves pouring amaro onto the empty beans and aging for a week or two. Whatever you do, remember to involve liquid; vanilla beans – even empty ones – are too precious to waste on something that is simply aromatic, albeit enjoyable.

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