How to Stock Your Pantry: Homemade Vanilla Sugar
Things I learned by living abroad: Despite the penchant for Europeans to make flavored alcohol out of nearly anything by giving it a good soak in alcohol, the tendency in Germany is to use vanilla sugar instead of vanilla extract in baking. There, it is sold in small packets and many recipes that I’ve encountered cite “1 package of vanilla sugar,” so the amount in one package seems to be uniform and understood.
I tested some packets in the Iron Chicken Test Kitchens (my kitchen), and each packet contains about ½ tablespoon (9g), or 1.5 teaspoons. I have seen packages of vanilla sugar in the US, but if you can’t find it yourself, it’s easy enough, and better, to make it yourself.
- 1 whole vanilla bean
- 2 cups finely granulated white cane sugar
- Slice one whole vanilla bean in half lengthwise.
- Scrape seeds from both halves with the back of a knife.
- Bury the seeds and the bean in two cups of finely granulated white cane sugar.
- Let sit in an airtight container for one to two weeks, the longer the better. The more time the vanilla bean rests in the sugar, the more intense the flavor and aroma become.
A wonderful side-effect from making and using vanilla sugar is that your kitchen has the loveliest vanilla aroma whenever you start it or use it.
Note that commercial vanilla sugar is usually stronger than homemade unless you’ve let your homemade sugar rest with the vanilla bean for many weeks. Personally I prefer the homemade because I know what’s in it – and what’s not in it.
Many of you know that I’ve authored several cookbooks, including A Travel for Taste: Germany in which I tell stories about and describe some German family recipes, mostly from my German “mom” Hilde. In some recipes, like these DELICIOUS vanilla crescent cookies (Vanillekipferl), vanilla sugar is required. You have to roll the still-warm cookies in vanilla sugar to give them their characteristic vanilla flavor. There is no vanilla flavor in the dough. Get the book: the recipe is in there, along with many other tasty dishes!
A final word of caution if you go in search of commercially prepared vanilla sugar: avoid vanillin sugar. The artificial vanillin flavor is extracted from wood-pulp products and cause some people allergic reactions and other unpleasantness. So there ya go—a cultural lesson and recipe in one fell swoop. You’re welcome. It’s what I do.