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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Sugar (and vanilla salt, and sucanat)

3 out of the 4 members of my nuclear family members are sick, including yours truly. This hot weather then cold then hot then cold then hot is messing with our immune system, and I'm left with a perpetually runny nose, with a horrid sinus headache, brain fog, exhaustion, and just generally an icky feeling. Unfortunately, my two kids are/were feeling even worse, feeling what I do, in addition to having fevers, sneezing, coughing... You know, that type of sickness you associate with mid winter, not the end of spring and heading into summer.

I'll leave you with a quick and easy recipe for today, because, quite frankly, I'm having a hard time concentrating on more than that at the moment. Even making supper almost seems beyond my capabilities. I just want to lay down and vegetate.

Where I live, when you buy vanilla extract, it's not real vanilla extract, its artificial vanilla flavoring (called vanillin), mixed with other chemicals, such as different colored dyes. Real vanilla extract is harder to find and is exorbitantly expensive for a tiny little bottle, enough to turn most frugal minded people off from buying it.

I've read about making your own homemade vanilla extract with vodka and vanilla beans, yet no matter how many vanilla beans I used and how long I let it sit, I never got more than a strongly vanilla flavored vodka.

Fortunately, there is an alternative, one that I can actually vouch for, because I've tried it and it absolutely works. Best of all- it's easy peasy and is ready much quicker than vanilla extract.
To use vanilla sugar in recipes that call for vanilla extract, just replace one teaspoon of sugar in the recipe with your vanilla sugar, and possibly adding a teaspoon of water to the mix (if you think the liquid is needed). If you want to use vanilla in a recipe that doesn't call for sugar, you can also easily make vanilla salt, just by replacing the sugar in these instructions with salt, and use the vanilla salt in place of the sugar. I assume this would work just as well with rapadura or sucanat, but haven't tried it myself so I can't make any guarantees.

To make vanilla sugar (or salt or sucanat), you need to buy one vanilla bean. It's called a bean, but really is this long, thin, shriveled dark pod (pictured above), and doesn't resemble a bean at all (unless you're talking about a blackened dehydrated string bean). Where I live, you can buy vanilla beans from health food stores for a little under 2 dollars a bean, not so cheap if you are talking about cost per weight, but considering how much vanilla flavoring you get from that one bean, it definitely is cost effective.

Take your bean home, score it with a knife, chop it up, whatever. You should notice an intense vanilla smell right about now, and if you don't, take it back to the store and ask for a refund, because they sold you counterfeit vanilla. (Just kidding, I've never heard of counterfeit vanilla- but vanilla has such an intense smell, especially once you start chopping it up. Oh my, when I'm sick, my attempts at jokes are pathetic!)

Bury your vanilla bean in a nice amount of sugar in a closed container. I used a kilogram of sugar (2.2 lbs) but I'm sure I could have used more.
Put the sugar in a dark cabinet for about a week, giving it a mix after 3 days if you desire. Each time you open the cabinet, you should be overwhelmed by a strong vanilla smell, even through the closed container. I think it's actually the smell from the vanilla bean that permeates the sugar to make it vanilla flavored, because otherwise it doesn't make sense to me how one solid thing can flavor another solid thing so quickly and easily.

After a week, use your sugar and enjoy!
I am pretty sure that you can reuse your vanilla bean for a new batch of vanilla sugar, but I haven't had the need to yet- that one kilogram of vanilla sugar is going to last me quite a while as it is!

Do you use vanilla often? What types of recipes do you usually use it in? Do you use real vanilla extract or imitation? How much does real vanilla cost where you live?
Would you make vanilla sugar? Do you think you'd try this at home?
And for those of you that have made vanilla extract successfully, any ideas why I just have vanilla vodka and not vanilla extract after more than a year? I put 6 vanilla beans (or more) into a medium sized bottle of vodka...

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