Updated: Oct 1
With all this talk of Sourdough starters going on, I thought, why not bring Vanilla Sugar into the conversation. As with any ingredient you use for cooking, the freshest version is going to impart the best flavoring. Using vanilla from the bean creates a distinct aroma and provides the visible flecks of vanilla seeds throughout. It is a simple way to bring natural flavor to your cooking, baking, and beverages. I love using it in both coffee and baking.
While there might be some sticker shock involved when you purchase, but keep in mind those pods can multi-task, and last for years in a jar of sugar. I recommend buying from a spice specialty shop locally or online. The vanilla pods in most grocery stores are not a full-size pod and not always the freshest. Typically I buy them in packs of three; my favorite shop is The Spice House. Check them out for all your spices, no, I do not receive any financial gain from telling you this, it is just my opinion.
Once you are the proud owner of vanilla pods, use them at will. It is surprising how many sweet and savory uses there are. They are also an excellent boost for vanilla extract, especially when you want to see the seeds in your frosting or ice cream.
Once you have scrapped the seeds out of the pod, made something delicious, nestle that pod into a jar of sugar. It doesn't take long for the flavor to build; for the best taste, wait a few days before use. You will also need to feed your vanilla sugar. Typically this is what I do. Once the sugar level is down by a third, I refill with more sugar, give it a good shake to mix. It is pretty straightforward to maintain. Unlike a sourdough starter, there isn't any discard involved.
My current batch of vanilla sugar was started about three years ago. The original pods are still in the jar, along with new additions. They do become dry and brittle, but I keep them anyway.
1 vanilla pod, scraped of seeds
2 cups of sugar
Glass jar, airtight.
Fill the jar with sugar, add the vanilla pod, shake well, allowing to sit for at least 3 days. Replenish sugar when one-third of it has been used. Continue to add pods when available, they will flavor your sugar for years.