There isn’t much more satisfying than tucking a scraped vanilla bean into a jar of sugar and letting it sit, allowing the vanilla to infuse the sugar with flavor before you add it to coffee or tea or sprinkle it over unbaked scones.
Plain white granulated sugar takes on flavors well, so it’s easy to spike with vanilla, citrus and other aromatics. Generally it’s just a matter of adding flavoring ingredients (such as vanilla or citrus) to sugar and letting it be, letting time do all the work. And when you use small amounts of flavored sugar, you can generally replenish it with more plain sugar to keep it going.
Vanilla sugar: it’s as easy as tucking a split (or used) vanilla pod into a jar of sugar and letting it sit for a few weeks – if you want to go further, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the sticky seeds with the tip of a knife. Add it to the sugar and whiz in a food processor to blend it really well. Tuck in the rest of the pod and store in an airtight jar. It will keep indefinitely and get better after a week or two.
Citrus sugar: finely grate the zest of a well-washed lemon, lime or orange into about 2 cups of sugar. Blend well and spread it out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Leave on the countertop for a few hours to dry, then pick up the parchment and funnel it into a jar. Shake it occasionally to get rid of any clumps.
Lavender sugar: put a heaping spoonful of dried lavender into a square of cheesecloth, bundle it up and tuck it into a jar with a cup of sugar. Turn the jar occasionally for a week or two, then remove and discard the lavender.
Rose petal sugar: crush a few rose petals (use only those you know haven’t been sprayed with anything) into a cup of sugar with a mortar and pestle; transfer to a jar and turn occasionally for a week or two. Sift the petals out of the sugar and return the sugar to the jar.
Photo credit: istockphoto/looobyloooby