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Vanilla
Pure Vanilla, used as a whole bean or in extract form, makes desserts taste better. The sweet aroma of vanilla is like no other. Vanilla beans are commonly used in desserts such as ice cream, custard, or creme sauces, or used to flavor sugar, which is then added to more dense baked goods such as cookies. To use in cooking, split the bean down the middle, roll the skin open, and chop into 2" hunks. Vanilla beans are cigar-shaped seed pods of the fragrant climbing orchids native to Mexico. Beans are carefully cut from the vine while green, and cured by sweating under blankets, giving them their characteristic black color and distinctive, fragrant flavor. Superior beans, such as those from Madagascar and Mexico, are handled carefully and cured to a consistency that is neither too moist nor too dry. The best vanilla beans are grown to 7-8 inches. Smaller beans do not have as nice a flavor and bring in a lower price. Longer beans demand a higher price, but farmers take the risk that a tropical storm will damage their crop, or fear that their beans will be stolen during the night as he and his family sleep in their nearby hut. Though theft is virtually nonexistent by Western standards, vanilla beans command quite a sum of money even before drying. It is common for each small family plot to have its own smart dog to patrol the perimeter and bark wildly at any stranger foolish enough to trespass at night, waking everyone within earshot. Vanilla Beans are used for baking and dessert making throughout most of the world. A bit more time-consuming to use than extract, vanilla beans impart the strongest true vanilla flavor without the alcohol of extract. Madagascar vanilla beans set the standard of excellence and are the vanilla beans of choice for most cooks. Many people believe Mexican vanilla beans are equally fine, with a robust, dark vanilla flavor that is perfect for rich baked goods. Using vanilla beans in cooking allows you to vary the flavor in your baking and dessert making by using different types of vanilla beans for different dishes; the flavor will always be wonderful. Using vanilla beans: Vanilla beans can be used in two ways-for desserts that have a liquid base, such as creme sauces, ice cream, sweet breads or custard, the bean can be steeped in the liquid. For these desserts, half a bean is usually enough to impart great flavor to any recipe. Cut the bean in half, split it lengthwise with a knife, and scrape the seeds into the liquid. If you can let the liquid steep a few minutes before cooking, even better. Throw in the skin of the bean too. The inner seed mass of the vanilla bean has the most flavor, but the skin has some too. Just remember to pull the skin out (scrape off any remaining seeds into the liquid) before the dessert is baked or frozen. The inner seeds of one vanilla bean can also add amazing flavor to desserts such as cheesecake; split the bean, scrape out the seeds and add them to the batter. Try cutting up the vanilla bean skin and adding it to the drip basket for flavored coffee.
Vanilla Beans   commonly used in desserts such as ice cream, custard or cream sauces
Double Strength Vanilla Extract   35% alcohol-adds an unbeatably rich vanilla flavor to baked goods and deserts

Single Strength Vanilla Extract   35% alcohol-stronger and more flavorful than any store-bought vanilla extract

Vanilla Sugar   an old-fashioned mix of real Vanilla Beans aged in pure sugar, used before vanilla extract came along