I see recipes that call for "vanilla sugar". I looked for it at the supermarket, to no avail! What exactly is it and where can I find it?
Vanilla sugar is, as its name suggests, sugar that has been scented with vanilla. It is often used in baking to add vanilla flavouring to cakes and cookies, or can be used to sprinkle over fresh or cooked fruits or even added to coffee. In many European countries vanilla sugar is sold in small sachets or envelopes. It is very fine sugar and generally used for baking as vanilla extract is less common. You can replace one sachet of vanilla sugar with 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
Vanilla sugar is less common in the UK and the US, but is easy to make at home. You can put split vanilla beans (pods) in a screw top jar of caster sugar (for the US you can use regular white sugar or superfine, depending on which you prfer to use for baking). Nigella has as suggestion in her book Christmas on making the sugar as gifts and uses 1 vanilla pod to 500g (2 cups) caster sugar. You need to let the flavour of the vanilla permeate the sugar so leave the jar in a cool place for about 1 month before using. Many people re-purpose leftover vanilla pods after making custards or anything that uses the seeds of a vanilla pod. If necessary rinse the pod with water and allow to dry on a piece of paper towel first. Add the split pods to the jar of sugar as amd when you have them. You can also top up the jar with fresh sugar each time you use some. The jar of sugar shhould last for a year or so.