Vanilla is one of the most popular flavors in the world, but chances are you’ve only used it in the form of that miraculous elixir—pure vanilla extract. Made from macerated vanilla beans, the extract infuses cakes, breads, sauces, and glazes with vanilla’s wonderful, aromatic essence. However, there are other ways to incorporate real vanilla flavor into your cooking and baking: vanilla beans and vanilla bean paste. Just like the well-known extract, these methods are easy and fast. But beyond delivering amazing taste, they show off the very source of the flavor—the precious seeds that hide inside the vanilla bean. Whether you use extract, beans, or paste, one thing’s for sure: For any dish that’s been laced with real vanilla, one bite is all you need to recognize its unmistakable botanical flavor.
Sometimes referred to as a pod, vanilla beans must be cured, a process that takes more than 6 months. Cured vanilla beans are very dark brown or black and measure 4 to 8 inches long by about ¼ inch wide. When buying vanilla beans, make sure that they are plump, moist, and flexible with a slightly sticky feel. The thousands of seeds within each vanilla bean are miniscule but simple to get out. Start by placing the bean on a cutting surface. Using a small, sharp knife, cut the bean in half lengthwise down the center. Once the bean is split, scrape the seeds out of the bean using the knife blade.
Vanilla Bean Paste
Simple to use, vanilla bean paste is a suspension of thousands of natural vanilla bean seeds in a paste that has the consistency of syrup. In recipes that call for vanilla extract, you can substitute the same amount of vanilla paste.
Homemade Vanilla Extract
Makes 1 cup
1 cup vodka
2 to 3 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
1. In a clean glass bottle or jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine vodka and vanilla beans. Seal and place in a cool, dark place for at least 2 months before use.
Very Vanilla Salt
Makes 1 cup
This aromatic salt will be a welcome addition to fish, scallops, and vegetables, or even sprinkle it on freshly baked cookies for a salty-sweet taste. To make the salt even more fragrant, add scraped-out vanilla bean pods after processing.
1 cup sea salt
1½ tablespoons vanilla bean paste
In the work bowl of a food processor, combine sea salt and vanilla bean paste; process until well combined. Place mixture in an airtight container. If salt starts to clump, stir with a fork until it flows freely again.
Vanilla Bean Crêpes with Vanilla Mascarpone Filling
Makes 1 dozen crêpes
2 (8-ounce) containers mascarpone cheese
6 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar, divided
3 vanilla beans*, split lengthwise and divided
1½ cups milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
Garnish: whipped cream, fresh raspberries
1. In a medium bowl, combine mascarpone cheese and ¼ cup brown sugar. Scrape seeds from 2 vanilla beans into mascarpone mixture; beat at medium speed with a mixer until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
2. In the container of a blender, combine eggs, milk, flour, salt, and remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Scrape seeds from remaining vanilla bean into egg mixture. Process until mixture is very smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Refrigerate batter for 1 hour.
3. Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Spray skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Pour about ¼ cup batter into skillet, and quickly swirl to coat bottom of
skillet. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until edges start to crisp and brown. Loosen crêpe with a spatula, and carefully turn over; cook for 30 seconds longer. Repeat procedure with remaining batter, stacking crêpes on a plate. Cover with a damp paper towel until ready to assemble.
4. Spread about 3 tablespoons mascarpone filling over each crêpe. Fold each crêpe in half twice to form a wedge. Serve with whipped cream and raspberries, if desired.
*You can substitute 2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste, divided, for the 3 vanilla beans. Use 1½ tablespoons vanilla bean paste in mascarpone mixture and ½ tablespoon vanilla bean paste in crêpe batter.
Vanilla Bean Brioche with Vanilla-Honey Butter
Makes 1 loaf and ½ cup butter
A long, slow overnight rise makes this bread perfect for a weekend brunch. Mix up the dough the night before. The following morning, begin with step 5 to finish bread.
3 vanilla beans, split lengthwise and divided
½ cup milk
1 (¼-ounce) package active dry yeast
3 eggs, divided
3¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon Very Vanilla Salt (recipe on page 61) or sea salt
1½ cups unsalted butter, softened and divided
1 tablespoon milk or water
2 tablespoons honey
1. Scrape seeds from 2 vanilla beans into milk; heat to 110°. Add yeast; let stand 5 minutes or until foamy. Lightly beat 2 eggs; stir into milk mixture.
2. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer, stir together 3½ cups flour, sugar, and salt. Using the dough hook attachment, gradually add yeast mixture, beating at medium speed until dough is smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes).
3. Cut 1 cup butter into small pieces; gradually add to dough, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until combined after each addition (dough will be quite sticky). If needed, gradually add just enough remaining flour to make a smooth, sticky dough.
4. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, turning to grease top; cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 12 hours.
5. Divide dough into 6 equal portions, and form each into a 4½-inch cylinder. Arrange dough pieces crosswise in a 9x5-inch loaf pan; cover and let rise 2 hours.
6. Preheat oven to 375°. Whisk together remaining egg and 1 tablespoon milk or water. Lightly brush over dough.
7. Bake bread for 25 minutes. Tent bread loosely with aluminum foil, and rotate in oven. Bake for an additional 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and firm. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool completely on a wire rack.
8. In a medium bowl, combine honey and remaining ½ cup butter. Scrape seeds from remaining vanilla bean into butter mixture. Beat at medium speed with a mixer until well combined and fluffy. Serve with brioche.
Grilled Fruit Skewers with Vanilla Bean Glaze
Makes 6 to 8 servings
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste*
3 apricots, each cut into 8 pieces
2 nectarines, each cut into 12 pieces
12 cherries, halved
1. Soak 18 (6-inch) wooden skewers in water to cover for 30 minutes; drain and set aside.
2. Preheat grill to medium-high heat (350° to 400°).
3. In a small saucepan, combine brown sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and vanilla bean paste. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is translucent.
4. Place 4 pieces of fruit on each skewer. Fruit will cook more evenly if only one kind is used on each skewer. Lightly brush each skewer with glaze, reserving remaining glaze. Grill skewers 2 to 3 minutes, turning after 1 minute. Brush skewers again with remaining glaze; serve immediately.
*We tested with Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste.
Vanilla and Peppercorn-Crusted Rack of Lamb with Vanilla Bean Butter Sauce
Makes 2 to 3 servings
Have your butcher french your rack of lamb. This means that the excess fat has been trimmed, and the meat has been scraped down to expose the ribs.
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste*
¾ teaspoon crushed pink peppercorns or multicolored peppercorn blend
½ teaspoon Very Vanilla Salt (recipe on page 61) or sea salt
1 (8-ounce) frenched rack of lamb
½ cup butter, cut into small pieces and divided
1 small shallot, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1½ cups chardonnay or other dry white wine
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
1. In a small bowl, combine thyme, vanilla bean paste, crushed peppercorns, and salt. Rub mixture over lamb, and refrigerate, tightly covered, for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
2. Preheat grill to medium-high heat (350° to 400°). Grill lamb 7 minutes per side or until desired degree of doneness.
3. In a large skillet, melt 2 teaspoons butter over medium-high heat. Add shallot, and cook until shallot just begins to brown. Add wine, and scrape seeds from vanilla beans into pan; cook until liquid is reduced to ¼ cup. Remove pan from heat, and whisk in remaining butter, one piece at a time, until butter is fully incorporated and sauce has thickened. Strain sauce through a fine mesh sieve, and serve immediately with lamb.
* We tested with Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste.
Vanilla Bean Caramel Icebox Dessert
Makes 10 servings
2 (14-ounce) containers vanilla ice cream, softened and divided
1 cup Vanilla Bean Caramel (recipe follows)
Garnish: fresh mint, Vanilla Bean Caramel
1. Line an 8x4-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. Spread 1 container of ice cream in bottom of pan. Spoon 1 cup caramel over ice cream. Top with remaining
container of ice cream. Cover tightly, and freeze until firm. Cut into slices, and serve immediately. Garnish with fresh mint and a drizzle of caramel,
Vanilla Bean Caramel
Makes 3½ cups
This sauce is wonderful drizzled over ice cream, stirred into coffee, or used in our icebox dessert.
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste*
¼cup heavy whipping cream
1. In the top of a double boiler, combine sweetened condensed milk and vanilla bean paste. Place over simmering water, and cook over medium-low heat for 2 hours or until color deepens to a golden caramel. Remove from heat, and stir in cream. Store, covered, in refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
*We tested with Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla
“When y’all are finished scraping the seeds out of the vanilla beans, stick the empty beans right into your canister of sugar. Over time, the sugar will soak up a heavenly vanilla aroma.”–Paula
Photography by Kamin Williams Food Styling by Elizabeth Nelson Styling by Renee Beaty
My Recipe Box | Log in to view
Join Paula and family for a Party at Sea aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas to Labadee, Jamaica, and Cozumel (roundtrip from Ft. Lauderdale) presented by Alice Travel. We will be having special, separate events for kids on this one with Jack Deen hosting the kids program! Click here for more information, and please note that the Paula Deen cruise is only available by booking directly with Alice Travel Book now before the prices start going up on the cruise and air!