The luxury of Vanilla pods

Now when I first published my cupcake recipe to this blog, I included a suggestion to use the seeds scrapped from a vanilla pod (sometimes referred to as a Vanilla bean) as an alternative  to vanilla essence, & soon after I received a couple of questions asking what exactly a vanilla pod was.

I keep forgetting that not everyone has been shaking their cakes for as long as I have or have had the luxury of a budget of a professional kitchen to buy them with, or, indeed, come across them in everyday life.

The sublime Vanilla pod, it may look like a worm with rigor mortis, but its a versatile essential for any baker

Vanilla pods are quite expensive, ranging from £1.99 – £2.99 for a single pod, depending on what supermarket you go to. They are the seeds from flowers from plants which are part of the orchid family and they have to be pollenated by hand individually, which is quite labour intensive- hence the price. So, basically, its an exotic flower with a sexual hang up.

Now they are great for flavouring ice creams, cream, mousses & sponge mixes & cheesecakes, but as they are are quite expensive, here are a few tips on how to make one go a long way.

1/ Split the pod length ways and scrape out the seeds, you only need half of one to flavour a simple sponge for example, store the other half in jar until needed.

2/ When you have used the seeds and just have the shell left, find a jar or suitable container, place 500g of caster sugar in and bury the shell halves in the sugar and leave for a few days, giving the sugar a mix inbetween. This gives the sugar a lovely vanilla aroma, due to the oils still in the seed case, which is fab in coffee or for giving cream a vanilla perfume.

3/ Get a container of caster sugar as above, but scrape the seeds out of the pod and place in the sugar with the shell, giving it a mix by hand to thoroughly disperse the seeds & leave or a few days. This gives the sugar a powerfull vanilla punch and is great to use in sponges to give them an extra creamy lift , or too sprinkle on fruit like strawberries for instance ( resist the urge to dab behind your ears or you will be covered in wasps !

Every time you use another pod, just top up your container with sugar and add more shells to intensify the flavour.

Some people advocate putting the pod in the sugar then whizzing in a blender- this does release a lot of flavour, but can give some cakes you make, especially light coloured ones, a “dirty ” appearance .

To get at the prized aromatic seeds, split the pod lenghtways and with the top edge of the (small) knife scrape along the exposed bean and the seeds will come away easily. (scrape away from yourself please though, I don’t want any disemboweling on my account)

One thing you must do is resist temptation to use the pod as a comical “poirot” moustache, it may make your top lip smell nice for a few days, but isn’t very hygienic.

The internet is a good place to find vanilla pods & essences at reasonable prices one I have come across recently is Euro vanille, based in France and really goes that extra mile to develop their products & engage with clients. will keep you posted if I spot any more to recommend.

well I hope thats answered a few questions about this marvelous bean.

Do not do this ! its not funny or good kitchen practice (the vanilla pod used in this demonstration was taken away and humanely destroyed)

© The cake-shaker 2010

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9 thoughts on “The luxury of Vanilla pods

  1. A good explanation Mark. Though admittedly when gathering ingredients for your cup cake recipe I hummed and haaaaed for ages in Sainsburys trying to decide if vanilla essence and vanilla flavouring were the same thing. I decided that they were mainly by default as they’d run out of vanilla pods and had nothing entitled ‘vanilla essence’ in stock. Seemed to come out ok though!!!

  2. Pingback: Spankingly naughty Baked Vanilla Cheesecake on a shortbread base « THE CAKE- SHAKER

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