Sugar and vanilla bean pods

How to make vanilla sugar?

By BBC Maestro

Vanilla sugar is a staple ingredient when baking cookies and cakes, especially for German recipes like Vanillekipferl (Austrian vanilla biscuits, traditionally made at Christmas) and Szarlotka (traditional Polish apple cake). 

If you can’t find it in the shops, it’s quick and easy to whip up at home yourself. So, with that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about vanilla sugar, how to use it, and how to make a DIY version.

What is vanilla sugar?

Vanilla sugar is, quite literally, sugar that’s been infused with the flavour of vanilla beans. It can be used in baking to add a subtle vanilla flavour to cakes, bakes and desserts, or it can be sprinkled on top of pastries instead of a dusting of icing sugar.

It’s mostly commonly used in Europe, where it’s a staple in many traditional recipes – particularly in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Scandinavian countries. It’s so popular in these countries that you can easily find sachets of vanilla sugar in any supermarket. Or, with a little time and effort, you can make your own richly infused vanilla sugar.

Why use vanilla sugar instead of vanilla extract?

Vanilla sugar is a dry ingredient and vanilla extract is liquid. That means if you use extract in place of vanilla sugar, it can change the texture of your final baked goods.

If you substitute vanilla sugar for extract in cake batter, for example, it can make the batter wetter than intended – which can lead to a dense cake, or it could even cause your cake to collapse. Also, because vanilla sugar is sugar as well as vanilla flavouring, if you use extract when a recipe calls for sugar, the final product may be lacking in sweetness. 

So, although vanilla sugar and extract both add a touch of warmth and sweetness to your baking and desserts, they can’t be used interchangeably – unless you also account for the potential changes in taste and texture.

How to use vanilla sugar

Vanilla sugar is a delicious addition to cakes, cookies, buns and other baked goods. But it’s just as good stirred into coffee for a hint of sweetness or sprinkled on top of porridge. Some traditional recipes that use vanilla sugar include:

  • Vanilla cookies or Vanillekipferl: These crescent-shaped cookies are popular in Germany and Austria, especially during the festive season. They have a light, crumbly texture and a deep vanilla flavour.
  • Zimtsterne: German cinnamon stars, another popular Christmas treat that uses vanilla sugar.
  • Kanelbullar: Swedish cinnamon buns with a light hint of vanilla go perfectly with coffee – at any time of the day.
  • Galaktoboureko: This Greek dessert is made with layers of filo pastry and creamy custard, flavoured with vanilla sugar.
  • Boterkoek: A rich, buttery Dutch cake that often includes vanilla sugar.
  • Szarlotka: A simple Polish apple cake that’s made with a crumbly crust.
  • Vanilla cupcakes: For an added burst of vanilla flavour, add vanilla sugar to your cupcake batter.

But as well as baking, there are also plenty of other ways you can use vanilla sugar. Try adding it to your yoghurt, porridge or coffee, sprinkle it over berries, or add it to whipped cream.

Homemade vanilla sugar also makes a great gift for baking lovers. Simply make it at home, pop it in a mason jar and add a cute homemade label for a truly thoughtful gift that comes from the heart.

Homemade vanilla sugar recipe

Whether you want to give it as a gift or use it in your own baking, vanilla sugar is simple to make at home.

Ingredients

All you need to make vanilla sugar is sugar and vanilla:

  • 400g granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod – choose high-quality vanilla for the best flavour

How to make vanilla bean sugar

1. Remove the vanilla beans from the pod.

Use a sharp knife to split the vanilla pod lengthways, and scrape the seeds out from inside the pod.

2. Blend the beans
Use a food processor to pulse or blend the beans until they’re finely ground, to release a more intense flavour.

3. Combine the beans and sugar
Add your sugar to a glass jar or plastic container, and mix in the blended beans until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Add the vanilla pod, too – you can either add this to the container whole or chop it into smaller pieces to better fit the container.

4. Seal the container
Ensure it’s properly closed and the container is airtight to keep the vanilla sugar fresh and protect it from moisture.

5. Leave the flavour to infuse
 Although you can use the vanilla sugar immediately, leaving it for a while will create a more intense flavour. The longer you leave the container, the more the flavours will mix together.

You can keep the sugar in an airtight container for as long as you need, topping it up with sugar and extra vanilla beans periodically as you use it up. Every so often, give the sugar a shake or stir it to help distribute the flavour evenly.

Tips for making vanilla sugar

Making vanilla sugar at home is simple and cost-effective, but there are some things to keep in mind to make sure it comes out perfectly, every time:

  • Choose high-quality vanilla beans: Your best bet is to look out for pods that are plump, moist and smell delicious.
  • Choose the right container: It’s important that it’s airtight, so ensure you choose one with a tight-fitting lid. The container should also be clean and dry before you add your vanilla sugar, otherwise, you’ll end up with soggy sugar.
  • Experiment with the amount of vanilla: Depending on your taste preferences, you may want to add more or less vanilla. Start with the recommended ratio of sugar to vanilla, then you can add or reduce the vanilla for a subtler or more intense flavour.
  • Replenish the vanilla beans: Vanilla sugar has a long shelf life, but the intensity of the vanilla flavour can reduce over time. After a few months, you can add new beans or replace the old ones to give it a flavour boost.
  • Try different types of vanilla: There are over 150 varieties of vanilla in the world – and they all taste different. Experiment with different types, including Tahitian, Mexican and Madagascar vanilla.

What is a substitute for vanilla sugar?

If you don’t have any vanilla pods, there are a couple of other ways to make vanilla sugar at home – although the flavour in the sugar made using these methods isn’t as intense.

Vanilla extract sugar

If you have vanilla extract and granulated sugar but no vanilla beans, you can make vanilla sugar by mixing the two:

  • In a bowl, combine granulated sugar and vanilla extract – start out with a couple of drops to ensure you don’t overdo it before adding more.
  • Once you’ve added a satisfactory amount of extract, stir until the sugar and vanilla are thoroughly mixed.
  • Spread the vanilla-infused sugar on a baking sheet or piece of parchment paper to enable it to dry out.
  • Once it’s dry, you can use it as you would any other kind of vanilla sugar

Vanilla bean paste sugar

You can also use vanilla bean paste, which is thicker than vanilla extract:

  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of vanilla bean paste to 100g of granulated sugar (or add less paste if you want a more subtle flavour)
  • Stir the mixture well
  • Either leave as it is, or for a smoother texture, give it a blast in a food processor

Experiment with more recipes

Armed with a jar full of vanilla sugar, you’ll be ready to make cookies, cakes and other delicious treats. Ready to expand your baking repertoire? You’ll find 26 easy-to-follow lessons in Richard Bertinet’s BBC Maestro course, Bread Making.

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