Vanilla extract is the most popular way to add vanilla flavoring to anything that you are baking or cooking. It is easy to use and less expensive than using whole vanilla beans. Vanilla bean seeds give baked goods a fantastic look, however, and you just can’t beat the flavor that a real vanilla bean can add when making something where that flavor can really stand out, like a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream. Many people find vanilla beans to be a little intimidating to work with, but they are not difficult to use and once you have started to use them, you’ll find that you want to use them even more often when looking to amp up the vanilla in a recipe.
Start with a vanilla bean that is plump and flexible, and lay it out flat on a cutting board. Use a small knife – such as a paring knife – to make a long cut down the length of the vanilla bean, cutting only halfway through the bean, as pictured above.
Use your fingers, or the tip of the knife, to open up the vanilla bean down the cut you just made. Scrape the back of the knife down the cut, pressing firmly to scrape all of the seeds from the inside of the pod. Transfer your vanilla bean seeds to the recipe that you are preparing. Using the back of the knife will minimize the amount of vanilla bean fibers that you might scrape off the bean as you scrape the seeds out.
To make the vanilla bean a little easier to handle, you can cut the bean in half horizontally and just work with half a bean at a time (or save the second half in a jar for the next recipe).
Vanilla seeds can be scraped from the beans at the beginning of a recipe, or they can be scraped out after a whole vanilla bean has been used to flavor a custard or other dish. Often, recipes will call for a cut vanilla bean to be used when making an infusion, and then ask you to scrape the seeds out into the infused liquid afterward.