One of the recipes being tested in the Sunset test kitchen this week is for vanilla pastry cream. The recipe calls for “half a vanilla bean, scraped," and this caused a few questions for clarification from our re-testers. I thought I'd take a moment to explain what this means.
Here is a whole vanilla bean. It’s comprised of the outer shell, which we call the “pod.” The inside is full of tiny, tiny seeds that we call seeds. When you’re making something that calls for vanilla beans, you want to use the whole thing. However, it helps to split and open the pod, and then scrape the seeds out, so they can easily disburse in what you're mixing.
Put the bean on a cutting surface. Using the tip of a paring knife cut the bean lengthwise.
Use the point or edge of the knife to scrape the seeds loose from the pod. If the recipe calls for a whole bean, do this on both sides of the split bean. See that black tar like stuff on the blade? Those are the seeds.
Now the vanilla bean—both the seeds and the scraped pod—can be added to your recipe. We’re adding it to cream to steep, but it can also be used in cake batter, cookie dough, or sauces. When it's all mixed, you'll have little black dots throughout the mixture. Usually, we just say to remove and discard the pod, since all the seeds have been rinsed out of the pod. Pastry chefs keep the pods, wash and dry them to be used in other things like vanilla sugar. But they use hundreds of vanilla beans a year and we use about six.
Our recipe calls for only half a bean, so we just use one of the halves and then save the other half for a future recipe.
However, when I’m at home, I don’t use vanilla beans as frequently. So I cut the bean in half crosswise first, like you see above, and then split both sides of one-half lengthwise, like before. This way, I can save the other half of the bean. Because it’s not open in the middle of the pod, it will stay moist longer and therefore ensure the favor is still at its best a few weeks or even months from now.
You can find vanilla beans in the spice aisle of most grocery stores. We prefer vanilla beans from Hawaii and you can order them online here. Store any unused beans wrapped in plastic wrap and then in a sealable plastic bag or container. Then, put it in the back of your refrigerator's produce drawer and they’ll be good for about a year.