I absolutely adore fresh vanilla. The smell and taste is intoxicating! Unfortunately, in Australia vanilla beans are not cheap. I spied a single pod in my local supermarket selling for $4.20! Cue the tiny violin!
A few years ago, prior to a trip to Bali, a good friend of mine mentioned that we could bring back fresh vanilla beans from overseas, along with many other spices. Admittedly I doubted her, but on return I re-entered the country with a swag of fresh spices, including two handfuls of fresh sticky vanilla bean pods, purchased for a meager $10 at the Ubud markets. Oh joy! Sweet vanilla joy!
Since then, prior to any trip through Southeast Asia, I always take an inventory of my spice collection, returning with loot to replenish my poor pantry. In fact, I haven’t run out of fresh vanilla in the past three years! Gone are the days of vanilla essence.
Vanilla beans are terribly easy to use and really are better than the imitation varieties. Simply lie the vanilla pod on its flat side and spilt the pod in half with a sharp knife (I like to use a steak knife). Then take one of your halves, splay your fingers so both ends of the halved pod are securely pinned down, then using either the back of a knife, or a spoon, scrape out the sticky vanilla bean. Voila, fresh vanilla!
Now we’re not done yet! Don’t waste the emptied out pod, this little baby is still packed with flavor and fragrance. It’s time to make vanilla sugar!
You many have noticed vanilla sugar listed as an ingredient on my Honey Butter Cupcakes and Banana Bread recipes. You don’t need to run out and pay $2.50 for 100 grams of pre-made vanilla sugar, that’s just nutty. Simply take your hulled out vanilla pods and immerse them in caster sugar. Within a few weeks you’ll have homemade vanilla sugar.
I keep topping up my sugar and keep adding the emptied out pods. After a while, the older pods will get a little dry and crumbly and need to be discarded. However I keep these and add them to my homemade chai tea for a little extra sweetness.