Why life is so much sweeter with homemade vanilla sugar
Vanilla sugar is culinary gold in every home cook’s pantry. Whether you’re baking with it or dusting it over cakes and cookies, vanilla-infused sugar adds aromatic joy to our lives. The best thing about vanilla sugar is it’s so easy to make at home, you only need two ingredients and a dash of patience.
What’s more, homemade vanilla sugar is so much better than store-bought vanilla sugar which is made using imitation vanilla extract. You’re not using an ingredient that’s made from harsh chemicals; only the pure essence of natural vanilla.
As we all know, whole vanilla beans are expensive and every last drop of vanilla is precious. Don’t toss vanilla beans after you’ve used them in a sweet or savory dish because there’s still a lot of gorgeous flavor hiding in the seams. Use your spent beans to make vanilla-infused sugar to sweeten your day or a friends if you give it away as a gift.
What is vanilla sugar?
Vanilla sugar is simply store-bought granulated sugar infused with the aromatic essence of whole vanilla beans. It can also be made using pure vanilla essence or vanilla powder.
The best thing about vanilla sugar is you only need two ingredients. You can buy fresh vanilla beans or you can save vanilla beans you’ve used to make a dessert or savory dish, dry them and then add them to the sugar. Vanilla sugar is a great way to recycle used vanilla beans. Nothing goes to waste.
Keep adding your used vanilla beans over the weeks and months to intensify the flavor and add more sugar when needed. It takes 2 to 3 weeks for the flavor of the first beans to infuse into the sugar.
What is vanilla sugar used for?
Vanilla sugar can be used as a baking sugar or a finishing sugar. In Europe, it’s used most often as a finishing sugar to dust cakes and cookies but there’s really no limit to how and when you use vanilla-infused sugar.
Many desert recipes call for vanilla sugar as a decadent alternative to plain sugar. You’ll find vanilla sugar in apple pie, pavlova and crème brûlée. It’s also divine in stews, savory sauces, vinaigrettes, smoothies and homemade mayonnaise and tomato sauce. Come to think of it, you can use vanilla sugar in any acidic food to give it a delicate sweetness.
You’ll find vanilla sugar in most European recipes for sweet treats like cakes, cookies and jams. It’s a staple ingredient for everything from pastries, desserts and dough to savory sauces, stews and batter. It’s the secret ingredient for a perfect vanillekipferl (vanilla crescent) which is one of Germany’s most famous Christmas cookies.
Vanilla sugar is also great to use in icing and whipped cream or lightly sprinkled over fruit salad. It’s heavenly in rich, roasted coffee and decadent cocktails.
Many home cooks will tell you that homemade vanilla sugar is so much better than the products you buy in the shops. That’s because home cooks only use whole beans or pure vanilla extract and not imitation vanilla extract which contains harsh chemical ingredients. Vanilla-infused sugar in elegant glass bottles make wonderful Christmas gifts.
Lucky for us, it’s the easiest thing in the world to make homemade vanilla sugar. You only need two ingredients.
Super quick recipe for homemade vanilla sugar with whole vanilla beans
24 ounces/ 680 grams granulated sugar
4 quality whole vanilla beans
Split each vanilla bean and scrape out the delicate seeds. Cut the pod into pieces.
Combine the vanilla bean scrapings with the sugar.
Use your hands to slowly rub the scrapings and sugar together until all the scrapings are spread evenly throughout the sugar. Wear rubber or disposable gloves to do this messy job.
Pour the combined sugar and bean mixture into a decorative glass jar that has an airtight lid. Add the pieces of pod you cut up to the sugar mix.
Leave your vanilla sugar mix in a cupboard or the pantry, out of direct sunlight.
The vanilla scrapings will take a few weeks to properly infuse in the sugar.
Remove the bean pieces before using and pass the sugar through a sieve before using to get rid of any pod sediment.
Easier but longer method
You can place whole, split vanilla beans into a container of granulated sugar rather than the scrapings. Either use fresh beans or ones you’ve used for other recipes. Make sure the used vanilla beans are dry before placing them in the sugar.
Push the vanilla beans down into the sugar so they are covered. Shake the jar of vanilla sugar every few days to evenly distribute the natural flavors.
Most home cooks wait at least 2 to 3 weeks for the natural vanilla flavor to infuse in the sugar completely. If you need vanilla sugar in a hurry, you can make it using pure vanilla extract.
Recipe for powdered vanilla sugar with pure vanilla extract (finishing sugar)
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (not imitation)
7 tablespoons confectioners icing sugar
Mix the pure vanilla extract and the icing sugar into a paste.
Use a spoon to spread the paste on a sheet of wax or parchment paper and allow time to dry.
The drying time is usually 1 day. Put it into the oven at a low temperature to dry more quickly if you need it in a hurry.
When the vanilla sugar paste is dry, break it into pieces and powder it using the back of a spoon.
For a fine texture, push it through a sieve or grind the dry paste using a Mortar and pestle.
Top tips for ratio of beans to sugar
Use homemade vanilla sugar as a 1:1 replacement for regular sugar to add flavor in beverages and baking recipes.
The ratio of beans to sugar to make vanilla-infused sugar is:
- scrapings of 1 vanilla bean to 1 cup of sugar
- 1 whole vanilla bean, opened and seeds loosened to 2 cups of sugar to steep for 3 days
- 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract to 1 cup of granulated sugar
10 great ways to use vanilla sugar
- Use it to make delicious sweet and savory dishes
- Add it to anglaise for homemade vanilla ice cream and custard
- Stir it into your coffee, tea, lattes or milkshakes
- Use it to sweeten health-boosting smoothies
- Sprinkle it over cakes, cookies, cupcakes and muffins
- Package it in a lovely jar or container and give it away as a gift
- Make your own vanilla sugar face and skin scrub
- Make jam with vanilla-infused sugar
- Make a fabulous vanilla-infused syrup to use in cocktails
- Sprinkle over fresh fruit for added flavor
Which vanilla beans are best for vanilla sugar
We recommend using Grade B vanilla beans, otherwise known as extract vanilla beans. They are less pricey than Grade A beans and are packed with more flavor.
Extract beans are drier than gourmet vanilla beans and take a bit longer to release their delightful aromatic taste and flavor. They need a bit more time to do their thing but it’s worth the wait.
Which countries grow the best vanilla beans?
The best vanilla beans come from the tropical islands of Madagascar and Papua New Guinea as well as countries such as Mexico, India, Uganda and Indonesia. It’s hard to say which countries grow the best vanilla beans because it all depends on what taste and flavor you prefer.
Vanilla flavor is influenced by the terroir of the country where the whole beans are grown, meaning its natural environment. This includes factors such as soil, topography and climate.
Each type of vanilla bean is slightly different:
- Madagascar vanilla is rich and creamy
- Tahitian vanilla is floral with cherry-chocolate notes
- Mexican vanilla is bold, dark, smokey
- Indian vanilla has deep chocolate notes
- Indonesian vanilla is mild and well-balanced
- Tonga vanilla is earthy with fig and raisin notes
Two species of vanilla beans
There are two species of vanilla beans; Planifolia and Tahitensis. Vanilla planifolia is a species of vanilla orchid that is native to Mexico, the Caribbean, northern South America and Central America. Today, it’s grown around the world and is the primary vanilla crop in Madagascar, Reunion Island, Comoros, Uganda and Indonesia.
The most common vanilla bean sold in stores is the Planifolia species which is used for baking and cooking as well for vanilla extract. This type of vanilla bean is commonly referred to as Madagascar Bourbon or Bourbon beans.
Tahitensis is a mutation of the Planifolia species and has a sweeter, floral note. This type of vanilla bean is commonly referred to as Tahitian vanilla beans as the wild vanilla orchid species originated in Tahiti. Papua New Guinea is one of the largest producers of Tahitian vanilla beans.
Two grades of vanilla beans
There are two grades of vanilla beans; Grade A known as gourmet vanilla beans and Grade B known as extract vanilla beans.
Grade A vanilla beans
Grade A beans are known as gourmet beans. They are restaurant-quality or chef-quality whole vanilla beans and are regarded as the finest vanilla beans in the world.
Grade A vanilla beans are longer, larger and plumper than extract beans because they have a higher moisture content. They’re also better looking because the high-moisture beans; they are free of cracks, splits and scar marks.
Due to its high moisture content, gourmet vanilla beans release their delicate essence more easily than extract beans. This makes them more popular for baking and cooking. Scrapings of the tiny seeds or split whole beans can be used directly in sauces, batters and anglaise and their aromatic flavor is released almost immediately.
Gourmet beans are more expensive than extract beans. They’re reserved for gastronomic delights such as vanilla-infused ice-creams, crème anglaise, cakes, pastries and desserts. You also find gourmet beans being used in exotic savory sauces, stews, beverages and cocktails.
Grade B vanilla beans
Grade B vanilla beans are known as extract beans. They’re used more often for the commercial production of pure vanilla extract because they have a stronger taste and aroma profile than Grade A beans.
Extract beans have less moisture content than gourmet beans and are a lot drier. As a result, they’re not the prettiest vanilla beans. They’re usually split, cracked and have marks on them. But don’t let their appearance fool you; extract vanilla beans have a stronger, more concentrated vanilla flavor than gourmet beans.
Due to their low moisture content, extract vanilla beans don’t give up their aromatic taste and flavor as easily as gourmet beans. But it’s worth the wait so be patient; when their flavor is released, it’s heavenly.
Let’s not forget the big seller for Grade B extract vanilla beans is they are less expensive than Grade A gourmet beans. They’re perfect for making homemade pure vanilla extract, paste, powder and vanilla-infused sugar.
What sugar do you use for vanilla-infused sugar?
Keep it simple and use regular, store-bought granulated sugar. This is the same everyday white sugar you use for baking and in your coffee or tea.
You can use brown sugar for a richer, healthier option but you’ll find that the strong molasses undertones may overpower the vanilla.
The sugar you use should ideally have finer granules. This is because smaller granules tend to absorb more of the vanilla flavor.
Only use powdered or confectioners sugar as a finishing vanilla sugar for dusting over cakes and cookies. Powdered sugar tends to clump up and crystallise after a period of time. Granulated sugar has a longer shelf life. If your recipe calls for fine-powdered vanilla sugar, only make what you need for that recipe.
Vanilla sugar versus vanilla extract: which is best?
In most recipes, you can freely substitute vanilla extract and vanilla sugar. The only exception to the rule is you must use pure vanilla extract for custards and buttercream icing. Granulated sugar will make the mixture grainy.
Vanilla sugar is best if you’re concerned about the trace amounts of alcohol in vanilla extract. Instead of the vanilla beans being soaked in alcohol, the sugar is used to extract the essential oils from the whole vanilla beans.
Both vanilla extract and vanilla sugar need time for the vanilla beans or scrapings to release their exotic flavor. Homemade pure vanilla extract needs between 4 to 6 weeks and vanilla sugar needs between 2 to 3 weeks for the flavor to infuse.
Substituting vanilla extract with vanilla sugar
Substitute 1.5 teaspoons of homemade vanilla sugar per teaspoon of pure vanilla extract that’s called for in a recipe.
Add an extra teaspoon of a liquid ingredient per 1.5 teaspoons of vanilla sugar to replace the liquid (alcohol) in the vanilla extract.
If you are using store-bought vanilla sugar, only use 1 teaspoon (1:1 sugar-to-extract ratio). This is because store-bought vanilla sugar tends to have a more pungent taste and smell than homemade vanilla sugar made with pure vanilla.