How to Make Vanilla Sugar (with Vanilla Beans, Paste or Extract)

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Vanilla sugar is a German baking staple. Well, probably a European baking staple, because I’ve seen it all over Europe. It’s super easy to make at home, and I highly recommend giving it a try.

I make a jar of vanilla sugar every fall and use it throughout the year. Vanilla sugar makes a lovely gift, too! In this article I show you how you can make vanilla sugar using vanilla beans, vanilla paste, and vanilla extract.

In this article I’m going show you different ways you can make homemade vanilla sugar. I’ve tried various methods and I now know what works and what doesn’t work as well. I definitely have a favorite method! If you want to get right to my vanilla sugar recipe, scroll aaaaalll the way down. If you want to read about my vanilla sugar experiments, keep reading!

What Can I Do with Vanilla Sugar?

Serving coffee? Offer guests a scoop of vanilla sugar. Berries for dessert? Sprinkle a little vanilla sugar on top. Making whipped cream? Substitute vanilla sugar for vanilla extract and watch your guests swoon. ​

I like to sprinkle vanilla sugar on my oatmeal. Yuuuuum. You don’t need very much. Even just a little bit elevates the flavor and makes everything taste so, so good.

What is Vanilla Sugar?

It’s just as it sounds – vanilla flavored sugar. When it comes to vanilla sugar, you have four options:

  • Buy vanilla sugar in packets.
  • Make it from scratch using vanilla extract.
  • Or vanilla paste.
  • Or a vanilla bean.

Since I’ve tried all four options, let me tell you a little more about each so you can decide which is the best option for you. I definitely have a a favorite – keep reading to find out which one it is.

Option 1 – Buy Vanilla Sugar Packets

When I lived in Germany, I always used packets of Dr. Oetker vanilla sugar because I couldn’t ever find vanilla extract. After moving back to the US, I’d bring packets home whenever I’d visit Europe (the photo above is the Dutch version). These packets are convenient but the vanilla flavor is artificial. If you want the vanilla sugar taste but no vanilla bean flecks, or if you don’t want to make it yourself, this could be a good option.

Where Can I Buy Vanilla Sugar?

It’s super easy to find in Europe (just got to any grocery store) but in the US it’s more difficult. You can order it here from World Market, on Amazon or at a specialty food store. My recommendation, though, is to forgo the pre-made vanilla sugar packet and make your own at home!

Option 3 – Vanilla Bean Paste

Option 4 – Use a Vanilla Bean

You’ve probably guessed by now my favorite way to make vanilla sugar is to use a fresh vanilla bean! You get the very best flavor and those beautiful vanilla bean flecks, the sugar stays white (if you’re using white sugar), and the texture remains sprinkle-able without having to run it through a food processor or coffee grinder. It’s so pretty and delicious, you’ll want to sprinkle it on everything!

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Sugar

Making vanilla sugar is super easy! I’m going to show you how to make fresh homemade vanilla sugar with vanilla extract, vanilla paste, and a vanilla bean.

What You Need to Make Vanilla Sugar

  • Sugar
  • High quality vanilla extract (like this one)
  • OR vanilla paste (like this one)
  • OR a vanilla bean
  • Measuring cup/spoons or a scale
  • Mixing bowl & spoon or a Ziplock bag
  • Food processor or clean coffee grinder (optional)
  • Glass shaker jar (like this one) or any kind of jar with a tight-fitting lid

Your vanilla sugar will be wet and clumpy after adding the extract, so you’ll want to spread the sugar on a piece of parchment paper and let it dry for 20-30 minutes.

Once the vanilla extract sugar has dried, it will be clumpy and crunchy. Use a fork to break up the clumps or pulse it in a food processor or a clean coffee grinder to smooth it out. Then pour the vanilla sugar in a shaker jar or a glass jar with a good lid.

2 – How to Make Vanilla Sugar with Vanilla Bean Paste

There are three ways you can make vanilla bean sugar. The first way is to pour sugar into a jar, stick a dried vanilla bean in it, place the lid on the jar, give it a shake, and let it sit in your cupboard for a few weeks to several months (giving it a shake every couple days). You can use the “caviar” (the seeds inside the vanilla pod) in a recipe, let the pod dry out for a day or two, and then stick it in the sugar.

Here my favorite way to make vanilla bean sugar

You can use it right away or let the flavors mature for a few days. I usually cut up the used vanilla pod and place that in my jar of vanilla sugar for a little extra flavor.

You might be wondering if you can use a sugar alternative to make vanilla sugar? I’ve been wondering that, too, so I’m currently trying out monk fruit vanilla sugar. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Here are the three jars of vanilla sugar I’ve got going right now: sugar with vanilla pod (bottom left), sugar with vanilla bean “caviar” and dried pod pieces (bottom right), and vanilla monk fruit “sugar.”


  • Pour sugar into a mixing bowl or Ziplock bag.
  • Using a small, sharp knife, cut the vanilla bean lengthwise. Be careful not to slice all the way through the bean.
  • Use the knife to carefully scrape out the “caviar” (the seeds inside the pod). Add it to the sugar and mix well.
  • Pour vanilla sugar into a sterilized jar and seal with a tight lid.
  • Let the vanilla pod dry out for a day or two and then place it in the vanilla sugar (you may need to cut it into a couple smaller pieces).
  • Store in a cool, dark cupboard.

How to make vanilla sugar fast?

If you want homemade vanilla sugar in a flash, I recommend using a fresh vanilla bean. Slice it open, scrape out the seeds, and blend well with sugar.

How long does vanilla sugar last? Does vanilla sugar expire?

Vanilla sugar doesn’t really expire! Store it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid at room temperature and it will last indefinitely. I don’t recommend freezing or refrigerating it. Unless I’m doing a lot of baking or dessert-making with larger quantities of vanilla sugar, I usually make 1 jar a year and use here and there.

What’s a good vanilla sugar substitute?

Just use white sugar and vanilla extract. This won’t work if you want to sprinkle vanilla sugar on things like fruit but if you’re making cookies or whipped cream, it will work.

Can I make vanilla sugar syrup for coffee and other drinks?

What about vanilla sugar cookies?

Instead of using plain old white sugar and vanilla extract, use vanilla sugar instead! You’ll not only get a better vanilla flavor, you’ll get those lovely vanilla bean flecks in the cookies.

Is it possible to use vanilla sugar to make a vanilla sugar scrub?

Yes, and it will smell absolutely delicious.

What is Vanilla Paste (Puree)?

Vanilla paste is also called vanilla puree. It is a blend of pure vanilla extract, sugar syrup, and vanilla bean seeds in a convenient product. The vanilla bean seeds are suspended in the sugar syrup so that you can easily add the appealing look of vanilla bean seeds without splitting open the vanilla pod.

Traditional Recipes

Vanilla bean paste is commonly used in dairy recipes such as vanilla frosting, vanilla cheesecake, vanilla crème brulee, vanilla ice cream, and whipped cream. The tiny black seeds stand out against the creamy white mix for an appetizing vanilla bean look. To use vanilla paste in any of these applications, add 1sp to 1tbsp of Pure Vanilla Bean Paste to your favorite recipe. Or, if pure vanilla extract is an ingredient, substitute paste for extract at a 1:1 ratio.

Other traditional uses are cream fillings, custards, mousses, and vanilla sauces. Vanilla paste is a dream for all of these recipes too!

New Recipes

Vanilla bean paste can also be used in baked goods! Try using vanilla puree in white and yellow cakes, shortbread, and sugar cookies! The vanilla bean seeds will stand out in these treats and lend a gourmet look. The same substitution rule applies to these recipes.

Think Outside the Box

For even more adventurous cooks try these suggestions:

Use vanilla bean paste as a substitution for simple syrup in your favorite cocktails! Not only will you get the sweetness, but also the beautifully complex pure vanilla flavor. Vanilla masks the harsh taste of alcohol which means your drink will be silky smooth! You’ll also get the beautiful look of vanilla been seeds floating through your beverage.

Add vanilla bean puree to half and half for an easy and delicious homemade vanilla creamer for your coffee.

If you’re making a homemade caramel sauce, add vanilla bean paste in at the end, after the butter, for a unique vanilla caramel sauce.

Try using vanilla bean paste instead of honey! Think yogurt parfaits, smoothies, salad dressings, fruit salad, and more! Substitute 1:1!

For a decadent breakfast, test out vanilla bean puree on top of your waffles or pancakes! Make a simple syrup and then add 1 tbsp of Pure Vanilla Bean Paste.

Finally, simply use the vanilla bean paste as a sauce. Drizzle it on ice cream, cakes, cookies, and more for a beautiful amber glaze with vanilla bean seeds!

Let us know your favorite way to use vanilla bean paste!

Flavor Chemist, Cook Flavoring Company

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There are many uses for vanilla beans, and using them in cooking is an excellent way to add that delicious flavor to your dishes. The seeds are edible, and if you have a few leftover beans, you can use them in cold-brewed coffee or maple syrup to enhance the flavor. The vanilla beans can also be used in other applications. A scraping and grinding process will result in vanilla powder that can be used in many recipes. Read on for a list of the most common uses for vanilla beans.

The vanilla bean has many uses, but the most common is in baking. Not only do the beans add tremendous flavor to baked goods, but they can also be used in savory dishes. You can infuse the flavor of vanilla into milk, cream, and sugar with the outer pod. To split a vanilla bean, cut off the ends, and scrape out the seeds using your non-dominant hand. If you don’t have a scraping knife, you can also use a paring knife.

When you’re preparing desserts, you can use the whole bean, split, or scraped. This will increase the ability of the seeds to infuse the liquid. You can also use the seeds from the split pod to add vanilla flavor to room-temperature cookies or vanilla buttercream. Alternatively, you can use the whole vanilla bean. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod with a paring knife and use the seeds to add vanilla flavor to other dishes.

No doubt you’ve heard the word “vanilla” used to describe all things bland and boring. This is a grave injustice! Vanilla has an intense, rich flavor that can actually enhance both sweet and savory dishes, from ice cream and cakes to hearty stews. Any baker will tell you that this ingredient is an ace in the hole—just a few drops can transform. Even the scent can carry you off to faraway times and places.

But using vanilla can also be confusing, since it comes in many different forms. Beans, paste, extract—they all describe vanilla. As a general rule, if a recipe calls for vanilla beans, a teaspoon of either vanilla paste or vanilla extract can work as a great substitute. Alternately, you can use the seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean in place of a teaspoon of extract.

Still have questions? Here’s a breakdown of the many types of vanilla, giving you the base you need to make the most of this amazing ingredient.

Cooking With Vanilla Bean

Vanilla comes from the pods of the vanilla plant, an orchid with many species, including Mexican, Tahiti, and West Indian. These pods carry pinpoint-sized black seeds that contain the chemical vanillin. Vanillin is the source of the floral flavor that we know as vanilla. Interestingly, most of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar.

What we call vanilla “beans” are actually the pods from a vanilla plant that contain tiny seeds inside them. Vanilla bean is also a flavor. It is usually intense and deeply vanilla-forward, with flecks of vanilla bean strewn through the white of, say, an iced cookie or ice cream. Vanilla bean can be used in a truly wide array of desserts, including semifreddo.

When using vanilla beans in a recipe, cut the end of the vanilla bean pod and then split it lengthwise down the middle using a sharp paring knife. Gently scrape out the seeds from the top down to the other end. Save the empty pod to soak in your favorite spirit or to make your own vanilla extract.

Cooking With Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Paste

Vanilla extract is a solution made using the black seeds of this vanilla plant. The kind of vanilla extract that uses these seeds is called “pure vanilla extract.” This is the familiar, potent liquid from the tiny brown bottle with a heavenly scent.

Vanilla extract is made by soaking cured vanilla pods in a mixture of alcohol and water. The alcohol helps to fully extract flavor. It also increases pure vanilla extract’s shelf life. According to the FDA, pure vanilla extract must be at least 35 percent alcohol.

Vanilla extract is definitely the most popular vanilla option out there because it’s usually the easiest to find at your local grocery store. This is the type of vanilla commonly called for in cakes, cookies, and a host of other baked goods, right on down to riffs on French toast. But like vanilla beans themselves, vanilla extract tends to be expensive.

Vanilla Extract Substitutes

Along with vanilla bean, vanilla bean paste is a great vanilla extract substitute (especially for vanilla frosting, custard, or ice cream). You can also make your own vanilla extract by placing about six vanilla beans in an 8-ounce jar and covering it with one cup of vodka. That’s because vodka has a neutral flavor so it won’t mask that pure vanilla flavor.

Imitation Vanilla vs. Pure Vanilla Extract

Artificial vanilla extract is a lab-made solution that seeks to replicate pure vanilla extract but without using beans. Food scientists accomplish this by creating synthetic vanillin—the same chemical that gives natural vanilla its flavor. More than 90 percent of vanilla extracts on the market are artificial. They tend to cost far less than pure vanilla extract.

The good news is that artificial vanilla extract does a wonderful job of subbing for the real thing. In fact, food scientists are able to concentrate higher levels of vanilla in the lab-made extract, often leading to more vanilla flavor. If you’re baking, imitation vanilla extract is a great substitute for pure vanilla extract. However, if you’re making icing, pudding, creams, or a no-bake dessert, artificial vanilla can sometimes have a bitter aftertaste, so experts recommend sticking to pure vanilla extract.

Vanilla Paste vs. Extract

In general, you can use vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste interchangeably. Vanilla paste has a syrup-like consistency and is a blend of vanilla extract and vanilla powder mixed into a paste. Vanilla paste has an eye-opening intensity, and it’s flecked with specks of vanilla bean.

Vanilla paste is easier to use than beans, which require the added step of extracting them from the vanilla pod. Due to its intensity, vanilla bean paste makes sense to use when vanilla is at the heart of a recipe (like vanilla cake) rather than one ingredient among many (like sugar cookies).

What Is Vanilla Powder?

Vanilla powder is vanilla beans ground into a flour. This powder is often mixed with sugar, but the best kind isn’t. Like vanilla paste, vanilla powder packs an aromatic wallop. It can be used in place of extract. It can also go where extract can’t: dusting hot-from-the-oven cookies, or sprinkling on newly made doughnuts and cakes.

French Vanilla vs. Vanilla

French vanilla is a flavor, not an ingredient. It’s made to resemble an old style of ice cream that used eggs. This gives French vanilla a custardy tinge, a slight richness that pulls it away from the pure floral fragrance of unadorned vanilla.

You can find French vanilla coffee creamer, chai latte mix, protein shakes, and ice cream. Confusingly, though, French vanilla now also appears as an ingredient—as an extract. While this extract may have a place, don’t use it as a substitute for the others.

Several forms of vanilla in the store may confuse you, leaving behind a doubt about what you should really shop for. Thus, we will explain how to use vanilla in the different dishes you make.

Vanilla is a spice that comes with a variety to add complexity to cakes, cookies, puddings, ice cream, smoothies, drinks, etc. Vanilla beans, vanilla bean paste, extracts, vanilla syrup, vanilla sugar, and vanilla salt are the main types that are used in baking, sweet and savory preparations, beverages, etc.

So, let’s get to know which product to use with which dish in order to get the best vanilla flavor and aroma for a tantalizing treat!

Vanilla is obviously the most ubiquitous baking spice you can find in your pantry. It is so versatile, adding a ton of flavor and aroma to whatever it calls for. Ten years back, you could have only found one or two forms of vanilla in the market. But today, you have the possibility to get hold of a bunch of different varieties under various brand names.

So, in this episode, we hope to cover the usage of eight main forms of vanilla that is readily available. And they are:

This guide will be super important if you need a clear idea and knowledge about the right form of vanilla that you should use in the next dish you wish to make.

01- Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans come enclosed inside cured vanilla pods, and it is the most expensive vanilla form. You can usually find hundreds of tiny, flavorful, and aromatic vanilla beans inside these vanilla pods. To use, you should split open them using a sharp knife and then scrape out the content.

Good quality vanilla beans usually contain a high-concentrated vanilla flavor, and they have a moist, pulpy texture. When used in a particular dish, you will have a spotlight flavor, aroma, leaving tiny, brown specks that will give a new dimension to the recipe.

  • Ideal with uncooked or slightly simmered recipes
  • With artisan-quality desserts
  • To infuse with a hot liquid when making certain beverages, syrups, etc.
  • Ice cream
  • Poached fruits
  • To whip with creams
  • Rich frosting
  • To make jelly and jam
  • To make homemade vanilla extract
  • Adds a flavor twist to savory dishes like butter sauce and apple puree

02- Vanilla Bean Paste

Vanilla bean paste is a gelatinous substance that often comes in jars and is much more affordable than vanilla beans. It packs a punch of pure, bold vanilla flavor but could be a little less intense than the beans themselves since these jars stay for a while on the shelves of the stores.

Hence, if you are looking out for a simpler way to get the same visual effect, flavor, and aroma as real vanilla beans, we can suggest the vanilla bean paste as a great, less expensive option.

But keep in mind that vanilla bean paste is a bit more processed than natural vanilla beans since it may contain additives like sweeteners, stabilizers, thickeners, and preservatives to get the texture.

This type is great with sweet dishes with a thicker consistency, such as:

  • Whipped cream
  • Ice cream
  • Frosting
  • Pudding
  • Custard
  • Sweet pies
  • Oatmeal
  • Smoothies
  • Vanilla Crème Brûlée

This is different in consistency than vanilla beans or the paste since it is basically a liquid. Pure vanilla extract is made by infusing 13.35% vanilla bean solids with at least 35% of alcohol. Moreover, this option will not have the vanilla specs you usually get by using real vanilla beans or vanilla bean paste.

However, due to its availability and affordability, the pure vanilla extract could be considered the most commonly used vanilla product, especially in large-volume and high-grade commercial baking. This option works well with almost every recipe. But it most likely complements cookies, cakes, and brownies big time.

In addition to these dishes, pure vanilla extract can be used in recipes like:

Artificial vanilla essence is made from synthetic vanillin, popularly known as vanilla essence, and is commonly used in large-scale commercial bakeries. This product is relatively less expensive than pure vanilla extract, bean paste, or real beans.

Imitation vanilla extract usually has a less concentrated one-note vanilla flavor, and you don’t get the same visual effect you would normally get by using beans or the paste. It is a thin liquid that is often light brown or clear in color.

However, artificial vanilla extract is picked by many bakers to make recipes that count for high temperatures, such as:

  • Cookies
  • Cakes
  • Biscuits
  • Bread
  • Buns
  • Steamed puddings
  • Hot beverages
  • Syrups
  • Sauces
  • Colorless imitation vanilla is an excellent option for color-sensitive recipes (white wedding cake icing, light-colored cakes, etc.)

Vanilla could be classic, but vanilla is never basic. In fact, those who fall in love with the miraculous flavor and aroma of vanilla never think it is basic.

05- Vanilla Powder

This option has a dry consistency which is different from any of the vanilla forms discussed. Pure vanilla powder is typically made by pulverizing real vanilla beans. This product has a rich vanilla flavor, and some options may contain sweeteners.

Vanilla powder is an excellent choice when making buttercream, especially if you live in a tropical area where the weather is very hot. Buttercreams tend to melt soon in a hot atmosphere, so using vanilla extract could make the buttercream more watery. Therefore, using vanilla powder is an excellent solution in such situations.

In addition to buttercream, the vanilla powder could also be used in recipes like:

  • To infuse into homemade pancake and waffle mixes
  • Coffee
  • Doughnuts
  • Cookies
  • Macarons
  • Protein powders
  • To blend with milk powders
  • Smoothies and shakes
  • Puddings that should be cooked or baked in high heat
  • Oatmeal
  • As a sprinkle on top of certain goodies like brownies, toast, spiced cakes, etc

Did you know that vanilla pairs well with cloves in sweet preparations? Click on this link to discover some exciting ways to incorporate cloves in cooking and baking.

06- Vanilla Syrup

Vanilla syrup typically comes together with vanilla extract/vanilla beans, sugar, and water. It is a concentrated, syrup-like liquid that is more versatile when making drinks. However, since this product is sweet, you should be careful not to overpower your recipes with sweetness.

That is, if you only need the vanilla flavor in a certain recipe, vanilla syrup could not be a favorable choice. However, the liquid consistency of this syrup can give you an evenly incorporated smooth yet rich vanilla taste in your hot and cold beverages.

This could also be used as a great alternative for maple syrup or honey in specific recipes since vanilla syrup is not overwhelmingly sweet like other sweeteners. Consequently, this option complements recipes such as:

  • Latte
  • Shakes
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Glazes
  • Cocktails
  • Fruit salads
  • Salad dressings and vinaigrettes
  • It can be drizzled over pancakes or waffles
  • It can be infused with certain mocktails
  • To make other complex syrups
  • Jams and jellies
  • Confectionery

Along with vanilla syrup, there are many other types of syrups that we use in our cooking and baking. Click on this link to discover some interesting facts about the syrups we use daily.

07- Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla sugar is made by infusing regular sugar with vanilla bean or vanilla extract, and this is a staple baking ingredient found in most German baked goods. You can get this from the store or simply make it at home by mixing white granulated sugar and vanilla beans.

While vanilla sugar could complement a wide range of sweet baked goods and desserts, it could also add a new flavor dimension to savory preparations like barbecue sauces and vinaigrettes. Moreover, this ingredient can be used in dishes like:

  • Sweet batter and dough mixes
  • Frostings
  • Whipping cream
  • To mix into fruit salads
  • To sprinkle on top of freshly baked cakes, cookies, and pies
  • Stir into tea, latte, or coffee
  • Add it to homemade ice cream
  • Dessert smoothies
  • Fruit tarts and fruit-infused shortcakes

08- Vanilla Salt

If you haven’t heard about this form of vanilla, this might confuse you a little bit, wondering how a savory-inclined ingredient could pair with a sweet-inclined component. Well, in that case, we should say that vanilla salt does make a great pair together, versatile enough to add a dynamic flavor to many dishes.

This ingredient basically possesses an intricate salty vanilla note that will give a twist to your favorite desserts, baked goods, and even some beverages! Accordingly, vanilla salt can complement dishes like:

  • Salted caramel
  • Stir into whipped cream (you can mix this with coffee or shakes!)
  • Cream cheese frosting
  • Sprinkle on chocolate chip cookies
  • Brownies
  • Almond toffee
  • Macarons

Freshly scraped vanilla beans in your pudding or custard, vanilla bean paste in ice cream, vanilla extract in cakes, vanilla powder in your favorite buttercream, a drizzle of vanilla syrup in coffee, or fragrant vanilla sugar in tea could actually make a real life-changing food experience! This is a must-have ingredient in all your baking, and it could also make a mysterious taste twist in many of your savory recipes.

Related Topics

Pastry chef Anna Higham’s dessert book, The Last Bite, is peppered with recipes that harness and highlight the flavor of the very best ingredients. Just as important as the actual composed desserts are the techniques and tricks you can use again and again, regardless of the recipe. Brown your butter, and dry fruit till it forms a tangy chew, writes Higham. And, in the swiftest flavor-magnifying move, char your vanilla pods.

By charring vanilla pods, a technique Higham credits to picking up from chef Daniela Soto-Innes, you intensify their flavor and add a smoky note. That subtle smokiness balances the sweetness and fattiness of vanilla’s usual haunts—creams, cakes, custards, frostings. Plus, once puffed, it’s easier to ease every single fleck out of the pod with the flat side of a paring knife. Vanilla, Higham argues, is “so special and expensive, it should be treated with respect and reverence.”

It’s summer: I’m buying the eye-wateringly-expensive heirloom tomatoes. I’ll happily cling to any tip that maximizes the heady notes of my pastry cupboard’s most expensive occupant. (Diaspora Co’s Kerala Vanilla will set you back $25 for three gloriously fragrant pods.)

Kerala Vanilla Beans

Higham’s technique is as simple as charring bell peppers or eggplant over your gas stove. Just slowly pass the pod, held between tongs (I found a pair of moribashi works too) over the flame of a burner. You want to go slow so it gets evenly charred—stop when it has toasted and puffed up. Don’t have a gas stovetop? Toss the pod in a dry screaming hot heavy-bottomed pan, like a cast-iron skillet, until it puffs.

Once it’s cool enough to handle, ease out those seeds with the flat side of a knife. Spent pods can be chucked into a sugar jar or saved for infusing cream or custard. Higham suggests giving the pod a third life when making custard (or custard-based ice cream) by blending the pod post-infusion with a bit of the infused milk in a Vitamix or similarly powerful blender, and then adding that purée back into the custard recipe. While Higham says that dairy is the “perfect carrier for vanilla” she also loves adding spent pods to cakes and cookies by chopping them finely and folding them into batter or dough. This works particularly well with nutty or boozy flavors—Higham cites a walnut amaretto cake, stirred through with chopped whole beans, as a favorite from her time at The River Café. Regardless of the vessel, vanilla better show up if it’s used. “If something is named ‘vanilla,’ I want to really taste it,” she says.

Flame-happy bakers need not stop there. “Peaches are an obvious one,” says Higham, but go on and singe your mangoes, plums, figs, grapes, pears—even sweetcorn and pumpkin. Higham has been known to cut the cheeks off of mangoes, torch their cut edge, and then purée the softened fruit before swirling a little through the Vanilla Rice Pudding in The Last Bite.

And then of course, there is charring’s milder but equally important cousin, browning, a technique Higham applies liberally to both flours and fats—think squishy brown butter cakes and a nutty panna cotta. But to learn all the ways to work browning into your sweets, pick up a copy of The Last Bite.

A Whole New Approach to Making Desserts Through the Year

Learn all the ways you you can make vanilla sugar from vanilla beans (fresh or dry) or even vanilla extract. You can even use an old vanilla bean that was stored in alcohol to make extract or even a used vanilla bean from making custard or custard sauce.

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Vanilla is an essential ingredient in baking. It’s a flavour that is warm, sweet, and sometimes floral depending on the variety. But vanilla can be pricey and baking with vanilla can be tricky.

This is one of those recipes that you keep in your back pocket. It’s a way to make sure you get the most out of your vanilla beans. It’s also great for when you want to make a homemade gift for somebody special. And vanilla sugar is a versatile pantry staple to have because you can use vanilla sugar in place of granulated sugar in most baking recipes.

Vanilla sugar is so easy to make! All you need are two ingredients:

  • sugar—use granulated sugar which has no flavour for this recipe because you want the vanilla flavour to shine
  • vanilla beans (either fresh or dry)

Some vanilla companies will send “vanilla bits,” which are damaged or broken bits of fresh vanilla beans that aren’t suitable for sale as whole vanilla beans. The vanilla bits are sold at a discounted price and are a great way to save money on real vanilla beans. These broken vanilla beans are perfect for making vanilla powder and vanilla sugar.

You have two options for making vanilla sugar from vanilla beans and it depends on the beans you are using, specifically, are they fresh beans, supple and moist? Or are you using vanilla beans that have dried out?

Vanilla sugar is such a fun ingredient to store in your pantry. It’s not quite as potent as vanilla extract or vanilla paste, but it offers a unique way of incorporating vanilla into recipes in a completely different way than extract.

Using fresh vanilla beans

Fresh vanilla beans are soft and supple. Vanillin, the dominant flavour compound in vanilla, is located primarily in the flesh of the bean, not the seeds. It’s also found on the skin of the bin and you may see it crystallized on the surface of high quality fresh beans.

Depending on how you treat the fresh bean, the extraction time will vary:

  • If you place a whole vanilla bean in a jar of sugar, it will take longer to extract
  • If you cut open the bean so that the sugar mixes with the flesh of the bean, it may take as little as 2 weeks to infuse the sugar with the flavour.

Using dry vanilla beans

Don’t let an old vanilla bean that has dried out go to waste! First inspect it to make sure it hasn’t gone moldy. If it looks clean and free of any growths on the skin, then you are good to go! Simply break up the bean into pieces by snapping it, and place the pieces in a spice grinder to grind it into vanilla bean powder. Then you can combine the vanilla bean powder with granulated sugar to make this.

Another option would be to rehydrate the bean in alcohol (vodka works, but also bourbon or rum). Then you can take the plumped bean and slice it open to make vanilla sugar, as you would with a fresh bean.

Variations and substitutions

With such a simple recipe, you still have options for variations and substitutions.

Make it with used vanilla beans

You can save vanilla beans from making pastry cream or crème anglaise. Take the used bean out of the custard and rinse it off under water. Then rinse the bean with vodka or another alcohol (bourbon works too). Let the bean dry in a very low oven (the lowest it can go, like 170 °F) until it is dry and brittle. You can also dry it in a dehydrator if you prefer.

You can then grind up the bean in a spice grinder and mix the vanilla bean powder with 200 grams (1 cup) granulated sugar to make vanilla sugar.

Make it with vanilla extract

Alternatively, you can use vanilla extract to make vanilla sugar if you don’t have access to beans, which can be hard to find and/or too expensive. Simply mix 5 mL (1 teaspoon) of pure vanilla extract with 200 grams (1 cup) of granulated sugar. I like to mix it with a chopstick or even a fork to help evenly incorporate the extract into the sugar. You can use store-bought or homemade vanilla extract.

The sugar will seem a little moist at first, similar to the texture of brown sugar. If you would like a dryer texture, you can spread it on on a sheet pan to dry it overnight before transferring to a jar.

Tip: if you find your vanilla sugar seems too wet from using a very fresh vanilla bean or a used vanilla bean from a jar of homemade vanilla extract, for example, you can dry the vanilla sugar. Spread it on a sheet pan in a thin, even layer to air dry it. You can put the pan in the oven (turned off) to protect it. You could even turn the oven light on. The heat of the bulb should gently warm the sugar enough that it will dry in a day or so.

How to use vanilla sugar

In many European countries, vanilla sugar is sold in small packets. Recipes call for a packet of vanilla sugar instead of vanilla extract. Bakers add it to batters and cookie doughs, and even pastry cream to add a little sweet vanilla flavour without it being too intense.

I find the flavour of vanilla sugar is quite delicate. I prefer to use it as a finishing sugar, to coat baked goods or fried desserts:

  • coat sugar donuts after frying
  • coat churros after frying
  • coat baked pumpkin donuts when they come out of the oven
  • roll chocolate sugar cookies in it before baking
  • roll sugar cookies with sprinkles in it before baking
  • roll ginger cookies in it before baking
  • roll booze balls in it after shaping them

You can add vanilla sugar to hot beverages:

  • It’s great for sweetening a cup of coffee instead of plain sugar
  • You can incorporate a little vanilla sugar when making homemade hot cocoa mix

Learn how to make homemade vanilla sugar with this easy recipe and how to use it in baking! You can use vanilla beans (fresh or dry) or even vanilla extract, and this makes a great edible gift for the holidays.

Breakfast, Dessert, pantry staple

vanilla sugar, vanilla sugar from vanilla beans

  • Place the granulated sugar in a medium bowl. Set aside for later.
  • Place the fresh vanilla bean on a cutting board. Press the bean to flatten it out on the board.
  • Using a pairing knife, trim off one end. Set the end aside.
  • Slice through the vanilla bean, lengthwise, from one end to the other. Put the knife down and using your fingertips, gently pull apart the two pieces to expose the seeds.
  • Place the split halves down on the cutting board, and using the back of the blade (the non-sharp side), scrape the seeds out of each half, from one end to another in a single swoop.
  • Transfer the caviar to the bowl with the sugar, making sure to scrape all the oils and seeds off of the knife so you don’t lose them.
  • Work the seeds into the sugar with a chopstick or a fork. You can even rub the vanilla seeds into the sugar with your finger, pressing and massaging them together.
  • Put the split pod in a clean jar and transfer all the vanilla sugar on top to cover it.
  • Close the jar and let it sit to infuse in a cool, dry place for a few weeks.

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If you want to use a dry vanilla bean, you can grind it into a powder with a spice grinder and then mix that with your sugar to make vanilla sugar.

If you want to use a used vanilla bean (from making custard or a batch of vanilla extract), rinse it off and mix it with granulated sugar.

If you want to use vanilla extract instead of the bean, replace the bean with 5 mL (1 teaspoon) of vanilla extract. Stir the sugar with the extract with a fork to mix it well before transferring to a jar.

If you find your vanilla extract seems a little wet (from using a very fresh bean or vanilla extract), you can dry it on a sheet pan overnight at room temperature or in the oven turned off with the light turned off. Don’t heat it too much. You don’t want to melt the sugar or damage the volatile compounds in vanilla.

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