James and I made popovers Sunday morning and sprinkled them with vanilla sugar, and this sugar made the popovers appealing in a surprisingly effective way. Like fleur de sel on caramel. It brought the flavors and textures together without overtly calling attention to itself. When I’d posted a while ago in a recipe to discard the vanilla bean, I got what amounted to a scolding from Shuna, who found it appalling that one could so easily waste an opportunity for the pleasures of vanilla sugar. She was right to scold.
I had never really taken the time to appreciate the wonderful aromatic flavor of sugar but now I always will. It deserves a place in the spice rack. That it is born of economy makes it all the more enjoyable.
If you’ve just made some crème Anglaise, or used vanilla bean in any way, pack the beanless pod in sugar. In a week or two, the sugar will be perfumed with vanilla. The vanilla is so powerful that when Donna was shooting the above photo, the room was fragrant with it. I’ll never toss an empty vanilla pod again.
I know vanilla sugar is nothing new and would love to hear how others have put it to use. In fact, I’ve got several pods from northeast Bali sent to me by cousin cousin Missy and her partner, Chris, a jewelry importer, who travel widely in southeast Asia; they also sent an array of salts and long pepper and saffron as well as the lovely new book by Deborah Madison, What We Eat When We Eat Alone—thank you! (Their friend Ben imports these vanilla beans and salts and the cool black and white pepper from his site bigtreebali.com, if you want ingredients from that part of the world.) Tell me how you’ve used vanilla sugar (or even might use it), I’ll choose one of you at random, and send you some of these very special beans with thanks to all for the ideas and comments.
Update, Monday evening: Many thanks everyone for so many excellent suggestions for using the sugar and using the pods. Love the idea of vanilla sugar with fish and with fennel, and I'll bet it will make a great curing sugar. I'll choose a commenter tomorrow afternoon to send the promised beans to. (I can only send to the US due to customs.)