Vanilla beans—actually whole pods with the beans inside—are easy to use and add a wonderful hit of intense vanilla taste to any recipe that would normally use vanilla extract (substitute one pod for each teaspoon extract). Here’s how to prepare and use a whole vanilla bean pod.
1. Look for whole vanilla bean pods sold in jars in the same spice section as vanilla extract. They are expensive, but don’t worry, you’ll get good use out of them.
2. Lay a vanilla bean pod flat on a cutting board (unfold if necessary). Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut off the hard, dried tip; then make a slit down the entire length of the pod.
3. Fold the edges back, revealing the pasty vanilla beans—each smaller than a grain of sand.
4. Use the back of your knife, or a spoon, to scrape the entire length of the bean, capturing all those tasty beans in a small blob. Add to pie crust, cake batter, or anything else you’re baking; mix well to distribute.
5. Don’t toss the husk! Chop it up into 1-inch pieces and add it to a cup of granulated sugar; over several days, it will flavor the sugar nicely (mix every so often to distribute flavor). Or add to plain vodka and let sit for several weeks, stirring occasionally, to make your own vanilla extract.