Now that summer is winding down, it's time to start to prepare for the months ahead – probably the busiest months of the year.

Knowing I wouldn't have enough vanilla for the holidays, I picked up a bottle of vodka and my vanilla beans. Between the end of September and mid-October it will be ready to use.

I've prepared a 2-quart jar with sugar and popped in vanilla beans and I've placed a couple in a large glass container of confectioners' sugar.

You may ask why I bother to make my own vanilla extract when I can easily purchase it from the supermarket. It's preference.

Throughout the years I think I've tried just about every brand of vanilla – both extract and imitation. And of course, I don't feel that the "good" ones from years ago have the same flavor and hold up under temperatures when baking like they used to. Just like anything else, a good brand is usually the best – but many times they too change with the times. (Let's face it – what doesn't change!)

I've got good taste buds – and there is a definite difference in taste between brands. Those bargain brands may save you money but they are of inferior quality and their taste just dissipates during baking.

You add vanilla for flavor – why use a brand that is not going to withstand baking temperatures and leave you with no flavor?


Let's talk about vanilla beans. For flavoring wet ingredients it is best to slit the bean lengthwise. You can scrape out the seeds if you wish. Today I just slit the beans to use. The seeds will eventually fall out without scraping as I shake the jar occasionally.
Soaking the bean – whether slit or not – will release its flavor. The seeds can always be strained out.

When flavoring dry ingredients, like I did with sugars today, I just used the beans whole without slitting. The vanilla beans are evenly separated in the jars so that the sugars flavor better. In 2 to 3 weeks it will be ready to use. As the sugar levels deplete, I can add more sugar to the jars.

A friend of mine that also uses vanilla beans will remove a used bean from the liquid she was flavoring and place on paper towels to dry so that she can re-use it again. Of course the flavor is not as strong and you won’t get the potency you are looking for. But for some recipes it works.

Using the liquid forms of vanilla you have a choice between clear and dark vanilla. Clear vanilla is great for keeping white foods as white as possible, like your meringues, whipping creams, etc. The dark vanilla will leave a dingy look to them. I do have a favorite WHITE cake recipe and I have used the dark vanilla and it didn’t make it look dingy at all. So once again – it’s preference.

I like to use vanilla powder in recipes as well. Not too easy to find though. It’s great because it doesn’t color foods at all. Works well with dry ingredients or wet ingredients without any lumps occurring. For icings and frostings I use my flavored confectioners’ sugar that I make – it’s easier than trying to find vanilla powder when you really need it.

Regardless of whether you make your own vanilla products or purchase them at the supermarket – just store in a cool, dark place, away from sunlight and humidity and your flavor will be there for you. Heat, humidity and sunlight sap the flavors. And remember to keep your vanilla beans in a tightly sealed container – you do not want moisture to enter. Keep liquid vanilla in its original glass bottles or plastic bottles they were purchased in. Powdered needs to be kept in a tightly sealed container or sealed plastic container. Don’t store powdered vanilla in a glass jar unless it is a brand new jar – never used for anything before.

Pre-used jars will carry the smells of what was previously stored in it no matter how well you clean it out. The powder will absorb those smells and it will weaken its flavor.

When buying vanilla beans, always look for a bean with full aroma, and oily to the touch, as well as sleep looking. Avoid the beans with little scent, are smoky, brittle or dry, or are mildewed.

Don’t let anyone tell you to split the bean, scrape out the seeds and toss the bean away! TOTAL WASTE. That bean is filled with flavor!

If you are going to try to “recycle” your vanilla bean, rinse and dry thoroughly before using again. If used several times, you can grind them up to add additional flavors to ice creams, cookies, etc.

If your beans have dried a bit and seem withered you can still try to salvage them by dehydrating in warm liquid. The flavor will still be there. Don’t try to split dry beans until they are dehydrated.

These beans will keep indefinitely if properly stored. Never refrigerate them – they will harden and crystallize. If you live in a humid climate, wrap in waxed paper and store in a tin box. If you are in a cooler, dryer climate you can store them in a glass jar or plastic bag. No plastic bags should be used for storing them in a humid climate – they will mildew easily.

As far as using vanilla sugar and vanilla confectioners’ sugar – use in any desired recipe as you would regular sugar or confectioners’ sugar.

One Response to “Replenishing the pantry – vanilla extract, sugar and confectioners’ sugar (summer 2009)”

  1. GrannyCheryl Says:

    Exactly what are the steps to making the vanilla extract ? I read that you put the whole vanilla beans into a glass jar with sugar what does this make?  I am trying to get the hang on this again lol thanks !!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.