My first use of the vanilla beans was quite conservative: Chocolate pudding.
(I was going to take a picture of it, but then I ate it all instead....oops)
The wonderful thing about vanilla is that it lifts up and enhances other flavors that come close to it, and vanilla makes chocolate taste positively divine. That said, if you'd rather have straight-up vanilla pudding, you can use this same recipe and just omit the cocoa powder.
Recipe adapted from Alton Brown:
- 1 vanilla bean, split and with seeds scraped out
- 5 cups milk and 1 cup cream (you can use all milk, if you want)
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup corn starch
- pinch of salt
- 2 tbsp butter
Pour five of your six cups of liquid into a pot and add the vanilla bean. You can toss in the whole pod if you want, or you can just put in the scraped-out seeds. Let this simmer until it starts to steam, then mix in your sugar and cocoa powder. Mix your remaining cup of milk with your 1/2 cup of corn starch until the starch is completely dissolved, then pour that into the mixture on the stove. Add your salt.
Let this cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. It might start to get lumpy; that's OK, just whisk the lumps until they break up. You'll know it's done when the pudding coats the back of a spoon. Take it off the heat and mix in your butter until thoroughly melted. If you're using vanilla extract instead of whole vanilla, add it at this point. Strain the pudding off into a bowl or individual serving cups -- whatever you want -- and chill for a couple of hours to let it set up. If you don't mind pudding skin, you can chill uncovered; otherwise, you'll want to cover it with plastic wrap touching the top of the pudding. This makes about 6 cups of pudding.
There's a lot of things you can do with this pudding if you want. You can make it low-fat by using 2% or skim milk, but it won't be quite as thick and rich-tasting. You can play around with the flavor profile and add various other extracts, like mint or coffee or rum. You can use flour instead of corn starch to thicken it, but the texture will be a bit more grainy.
The finished product can be eaten as-is or incorporated into cake. You could make eclairs and stuff them with the pudding. You can freeze it to make some really excellent fudge pops. You can tweak the type of milk you use to make it richer or more low-cal. I suspect you could add more starch or some gelatin to make a pie. You could probably make vegan pudding by using rice, almond or coconut milk, but I've never tried it. You can also mix up all of the dry ingredients and keep it in a jar in the cabinet to make single-size servings of pudding whenever you want.
Anyway -- chocolate pudding = amazing.
I put my scraped-out vanilla bean stalk into a jar of sugar in the pantry. It should infuse it with flavor and make some really yummy vanilla sugar that can then be used to sweeten tea, sprinkle over cereal or baked goods, whatever. I'll buy some liquor this week so I can make some vanilla extract, too.