How to use a vanilla bean

I’ve had a few people ask me how to work a vanilla bean.  So, I thought I’d show you how.

First, you find some vanilla beans, and you buy them.  In my local grocery store, they’re kind of hidden amongst the baking stuff in a little container that looks like this:

How to use a vanilla bean |


Then you take a sharp knife and, using the point of the knife, split the vanilla bean down the middle.

Pressing the knife edge perpendicular to the vanilla bean on one end, run the blade down the split you’ve made, scraping out the lovely little vanilla bean seeds.

How to use a vanilla bean |

Recognize those little specks from your premium vanilla ice cream?  That’s the good stuff.

I don’t use vanilla beans in every recipe that calls for vanilla – that would get a little pricey – but for anything that features vanilla, like my vanilla pudding recipe, you’ll find that splurging on the beans is a must.

There.  You learn something new every day.

Butternut Squash, Pear, Cider and Vanilla Bean Soup

Here’s a creative soup from a great blogger, Orangette.  Her book, A Homemade Life, is a beautiful memoir full of stories and recipes.  Maybe one day I’ll write a book like that…

Butternut squash soup

For now, I’ll make soup.

Oddly pretty, isn't it?

Oddly pretty, isn’t it?

In a large pot, saute the onion, squash and pears in the olive oil until they start to get soft (don’t allow them to brown).


Add in the broth and salt and allow the mixture to simmer until the vegetables/fruit are thoroughly cooked.


Blend your soup in a food processor or with an immersion blender.  Stir in the cream and vanilla bean and serve.

Butternut squash, pear, cider and vanilla bean soup


Butternut Squash, Pear, Cider and Vanilla Bean Soup
Write a review
  1. 3 tbsp. olive oil
  2. 1 butternut squash (approx. 2 lbs); peeled, seeded and cubed
  3. 2 pears, peeled, cored, and cubed
  4. 1 onion, chopped
  5. 1 cup apple cider
  6. 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  7. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  8. 1/2 cup half-and-half or cream
  9. 1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped of its' seeds
  1. In a large pot, saute the onion, squash and pears in the olive oil until they start to get soft (don't allow them to brown).
  2. Add in the broth and salt and allow the mixture to simmer until the vegetables/fruit are thoroughly cooked.
  3. Blend your soup in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Stir in the cream and vanilla bean and serve.
Adapted from Orangette
Adapted from Orangette
Purple House Café

Vanilla Bean Caramels

Vanilla Bean Caramels

Caramel.  It’s been on my food bucket list for a little while.  I think of it as being a little scary.  Even with the help of my trusty candy thermometer, I picture chipping hardened burnt sugar off of the bottom of a pot, or candies that ooze out of their wrappers.  To me, being scared of something is just as good a reason as any to do it.  I was pretty scared of this, too:


And this:



Also this:


But, let’s face our fears together, shall we?  Here’s a delicious recipe for vanilla bean salted caramels from Annie’s Eats.

Here’s what you need:

1 cup heavy cream
5 tbsp. butter
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean pod, split lengthwise and scraped
1¼ tsp. fleur de sel, plus more for sprinkling
1½ cups sugar
¼ cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water

Here’s what you do:
Line the bottom and sides of an 8 x 8″ pan with parchment paper, and then lightly butter the parchment.
Throw the cream, butter, vanilla extract, vanilla bean seeds and pods and fleur de sel in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Once it’s boiled, remove from the heat and set aside.  Once it’s cooled a little, remove the vanilla bean pods.
In another saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup and water.  Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved into the liquid.  Bring the mixture to a boil – don’t stir it at this point, but you can swirl the pot a little to keep it moving.  Boil until the syrup is a light caramel colour.
Now here’s where it gets a little scary.  Stay with me.  Very carefully and painfully slowly, add the cream mixture into the browned sugar mixture.  It’s going to bubble and steam and go crazy on you, but if you go slow and whisk constantly, you’ll survive.  Stir until incorporated and continue simmering the mixture until it reads 248F on a candy thermometer (don’t try to do this without a candy thermometer.  Just don’t.  Best $7 of your life, fellow candy-maker!).
When you reach 248F, remove the mixture from the heat immediately and pour it into the pre-prepared pan.  Let it cool for 30 minutes or so and sprinkle with the additional fleur de sel.  Continue to let it sit until it’s completely cooled before slicing and wrapping in wax paper, if you wish.

Vanilla Bean Sticky Buns with Bailey’s Caramel Sauce

Vanilla Bean Sticky Buns with Bailey’s Caramel Sauce

I’ve been playing around with enhancing some of my favourite recipes lately.  Yup, that’s right:  I’ve been talking the talk and walking the walk, as they say, when it comes to being brave and experimenting in the kitchen.  Rather than starting with a bottle of ketchup, a fillet of fish, some artisan cheese and a head of broccoli and attempting to create the next Pinterest trend made up completely from one’s imagination, it can be helpful to start with what you know works, and add delicious little changes to make the recipe your own.


That’s what I did with my classic Cinnamon Roll recipe.  I hosted a St. Patrick’s Day brunch this year, and I was trying to think of ways to infuse a bit of Irish charm into my menu plan.  As I lay awake nursing Ada one night, I started with the idea of adding Bailey’s.  What could be more Irish than that, right?  I knew I wanted to use some of the vanilla beans I’d brought back from Mexico.  Soon, my plan was ready to be hatched.


So, all I did was make my Cinnamon Rolls, but instead of adding cinnamon to the filling, I adding the scrapings of one vanilla bean crumbled into my brown sugar.


For the Bailey’s Caramel Sauce, I switched out the heavy cream from my vanilla bean caramel sauce recipe and added Bailey’s instead.  This is where the proverbial rubber of recipe development hits the road:  my caramel sauce was REALLY strongly alcoholic tasting, and though I love Bailey’s (a LOT!), it was too much.  Also, it acted kind of funny when added to the boiling sugar – I think it was some kind of kitchen chemistry stuff that I don’t understand.  Instead, maybe just do 1 cup of cream and 1/4 cup of Bailey’s.




Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

Vanilla Bean Caramel Sauce

Caramel sauce.  It’s like a little jar of happiness in the fridge.  You can eat it on ice cream or yogurt, pour some in your coffee in the morning, or stand in front of the fridge in your pajamas eating it out of the mason jar with a spoon.


Here’s what you need:

1 cup sugar
1¼ cups heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
¼ tsp. coarse salt
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Here’s what you do:
Spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of a large saucepan and place on the stove over medium heat. When the sugar begins to liquefy around the edges, use a spatula to gently stir it towards the center.  Continue stirring very gently until all the sugar is melted, being careful not to over-stir.  While this is happening, measure out the heavy cream into a liquid measuring cup and scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream.  Set aside.  Once the caramel reaches a deep amber color, immediately remove the saucepan from the heat.  Now, very carefully and SLOWLY, whisk in half of the cream.  The mixture will steam and bubble violently (hence the SLOWLY part).  Stir until the cream is well incorporated, then whisk in the remaining cream.  Stir in the salt and the vanilla.  If any sugar has hardened, place the saucepan over low heat and whisk until smooth.


Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  If the caramel becomes harder than you’d like, you can just re-heat it briefly in the microwave or over the stove to achieve a nice consistency once more.

Recipe courtesy of  Annie’s Eats