I am a vanilla fiend. It’s my favorite flavor of ice cream and I add vanilla syrup to coffee and tea with disturbing regularity. Apparently, the fact that vanilla is my favorite ice cream flavor means that I am a “colorful, dramatic risk taker who relies more on intuition than logic; emotionally expressive and idealistic, [I] tend to set high goals for [myself], and push [myself] to meet and exceed them.” Apparently I also enjoy close family relationships, am gregarious and live a hectic life, as well as being easily suggestible, expressive, and idealistic, and a private person.
I digress. Back to the syrup. I keep a bottle of Starbucks vanilla syrup next to my coffee maker so that I can sweeten my coffee with it in the morning. Given the price point of that particular bottle, however, I recently decided I’d make my own, effectively saving a significant amount over a year period. For some reason, melted sugar commands a higher price than granulated. I guess it’s all the water that goes into it.
I’ve made simple syrup a million times, but since I’d never tried to make it vanilla flavored, I wasn’t sure how it would come out. I forged ahead nevertheless. It turned out wonderfully! The color is a nice caramel, and there are even tiny little vanilla bean flecks floating in it, which makes its vanilla goodness all the more wonderful.
Simple syrup itself is easy – equal parts sugar and water heated until the sugar dissolves. Since I use it in my coffee, and in cooking and drink making – the hubs and I enjoy a nice refreshing mojito or martini in the warm summer evenings – I always have a batch on hand. It does not need to be refrigerated, but if you make enough that it doesn’t fit in one container, you can keep the rest for up to six months in the refrigerator. If you use it as a sugar substitute, however, even large batches like I make are gone long before then.
Place 6 cups of water and 6 cups of sugar into a large saucepan. Heat on medium, stirring often, until the sugar dissolves. Once the sugar is dissolved, add 1 vanilla bean, chopped into small pieces. Continue to heat and stir for about five minutes more. Do not let the mixture boil, as the water will evaporate and you will end up with really thick syrup. Of course, you might want really thick syrup; in that case, boil away.
Remove the pan from the heat source and allow the mixture cool in the pan for about 30 minutes. Leave the bean(s) in the pan while the mixture cools. Once you’re ready to put the syrup in a container, you can either remove the vanilla bean or leave it for added flavor.
You can get vanilla beans just about anywhere, including the supermarket. I like My Spice Sage best (you can often get some free beans with another small purchase) or Penzeys because I can stock up on other spices while there. If you’re just looking for the beans alone, I’d suggest heading over to Beanilla to pick up your stash. You can also learn about the different types of beans and their flavor notes. Although I prefer Madagascar vanilla beans, any variety should work fine (and the beans can be short or long for the purposes of this recipe). Madagascar beans have a rich, dark and creamy flavor, with an overwhelming sweet, buttery aroma.
If you’re not a vanilla fan, you can add just about any flavor you want to your sugar syrup. I have a friend who is a mint julep fan, and she uses fresh mint to infuse her simple syrup. Have fun with it, and enjoy! Let me know what new and exciting flavors you create.