Once we’ve scraped the seeds from a vanilla bean, we usually stash the empty bean halves in a container of sugar to make vanilla sugar for coffee and other treats. But we’ve been going through a lot of vanilla beans lately, and since there’s only so much vanilla sugar a cook can use, we thought we’d ask some of our contributing bakers what they do with their empty beans.
Regan Daley: “I collect a lot of them and pop them into a custard base or a syrup that’s heated on the stove. Five or six scraped vanilla bean halves add up to one whole bean and will infuse a custard or syrup just as well. I also put them in a bottle of vodka or brandy. I keep putting the beans in as I use them (I give the bottle a swirl every now and then), and the flavor just gets more intense. It makes a nice little after-dinner drink.”
Carolyn Weil: “If I scrape out a vanilla bean and don’t use it to infuse something else, like a custard— in other words, it’s still ‘clean’—I put it in a small jar of orange liqueur to flavor the liqueur for future baking. I actually store my whole vanilla beans in vanilla extract. It keeps them from drying out, and they stay nice and plump so it’s easy to scrape out the seeds.”
Rose Levy Beranbaum: “I sometimes use the bean as a decoration for a dessert that features vanilla, such as a vanilla cheesecake. I simply lay the bean on the top-it has such a graceful curve.”