gifts, tutorials, food

Vanilla Sugar

I'm excited about today's post because it marks the beginning of the holiday season for my little blog.  I love this time of year and in the coming weeks I'll be sharing lots of ideas you can implement in your cozy holiday home.  I have crafts and decorations in the works as well as plenty of recipes for homemade goodies.

Many of my holiday recipes are ideal for homemade gifting and today's is the perfect example.  Vanilla Sugar is an easy recipe that can function as a gift in itself or as a pantry ingredient in several gift-worthy recipes.

There are two different ways to make vanilla sugar: with whole vanilla beans and with vanilla extract.  Use the method that suits the time and ingredients you have.

The first method requires more inactive time, but it's the simplest.  Just bury one vanilla bean, slit lengthwise with a sharp knife, in 2 cups of sugar in a clean, dry jar.  Seal the jar and allow two weeks for the flavor to develop.

What's great about this method is that you can repurpose vanilla beans that you've already utilized.  For example, if you make your own extract (here's a recipe for that) you can reuse the beans after they've had their full bath in the liquor.  Just rinse them, let them dry out, and proceed.  If you've scraped the tiny beans from a pod for a recipe, make vanilla sugar with emptied pods -- they still have plenty of flavor.  Just use one empty pod for 1 cup of sugar in that case.

The other way to go results in vanilla sugar that's ready for pretty immediate use and is cheaper than using brand new vanilla beans.  I'm making a large quantity of a homemade baking mix I'll be gifting and blogging about in a couple of weeks, so I needed a hefty sum of vanilla sugar.  For that I used my inexpensive (but still pure and high quality) extract purchased at the bulk store.

While white granulated sugar is the usual ingredient here, you can also flavor other kinds of sugar.  Coconut sugar, organic cane sugar, and turbinado are all well-suited.  I would only steer clear of brown sugar since it's already so moist from molasses and might become a soggy mess with the addition of more liquid.  In these photos I'm using an equal mix of white granulated and turbinado sugar.

Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to each cup of sugar and stir really well.  Then spread the mixture out in a shallow pan or on sheets of waxed paper.

Let this sit for 2 to 3 hours until it's completely dry.  The resulting sugar will be clumpy from the added moisture; this is perfectly fine.  If it's for personal use, just transfer the sugar to a sealable container and break it up with your hands as you use it in recipes.  If it's for gifting, you can use a blender or spice grinder to pulverize the clumps.

So, how to use your vanilla sugar?  Substitute it for the regular sugar called for in any of your baking recipes.  Vanilla sugar makes the absolute best caramelized sugar lid on creme brulee.  If you like sweetened coffee, this is the ideal sweetener.  Or, simply add a pretty tag to the jar and gift it as is.

But wait, there's more!  (Imagine I said that last bit in my best smarmy infomercial voice.)  I decided to make a little variation with extra holiday flavor.

For this orange-vanilla variation, add the finely grated zest of 1 large orange or 2 mandarins along with the vanilla extract in the second method.  Let it all dry out together.  I can't wait to show you what I'm going to do with this super aromatic, tasty sugar.  

For any of the three sugars outlined above, store in an airtight container and it will keep for months.  Happy baking and gifting!