Great vanilla is probably the most sensuously aromatic food in the world. The fruit of the Vanilla planifolia orchid grown in Madagascar, the beans are more than six inches long, thick, moist and nearly bursting with luscious seeds—the source of the scent.
Baking with vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract adds immense flavor to your food. It simply tastes fresher, less muted. It does take more work, but if you have the time the flavor is definitely worth it.
Here's how. Using a small, sharp knife, split the bean down the middle and unfold it, exposing the seeds. With the tip of the knife scrape out the seeds and put them into whatever you're making, be it ice cream, cookies, pies, or custard. That's it.
It's also easy to use the pods to infuse the flavor of vanilla into ingredients. Sugar is something common and simple. Chop the bean into small pieces and mix in a bowl with your favorite sugar. The flavor of the vanilla will seep into the sugar over the next few days. You can filter the beans out, or leave them in to concentrate the flavor.