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.
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.
What you need to make vanilla sugar
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.
How to make it
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
- 200 grams granulated sugar
- 1 vanilla bean fresh, or dry or used (see recipe notes for these variations)
- 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.