When you’re searching for the best chocolate chip recipe out there, you have to try different forms and variations of ingredients: creamed butter vs. brown butter, chocolate chips vs. chocolate chunks, vanilla extract vs. vanilla beans. There was a co-op in Connecticut where I lived that had two vanilla beans in little baggies for $3.89! I don’t know what magic allowed that to go down, but I wasn’t asking questions. It was time that I tested out the real deal.
Vanilla beans are super cool because the flavor lies in these tiny seeds that are inside the bean. To get to them, I made a slit with a small knife, trying not to cut all the way through to the other side. Then I could open it up and scrape out the seeds with the blunt side of the knife.
Inside, the seeds are pasty and oily, and have a strong vanilla aroma. Depending on the size of the vanilla bean, you could use half of the seeds for one batch of cookies and save the rest. If you find yourself with a dried out vanilla bean, just wrap it in a damp paper towel and put it in the microwave for 20 seconds!
When I tried the chocolate chip cookies with this vanilla bean, I could definitely tell a difference between them and cookies I’d made with vanilla extract. These cookies were almost floral from the vanilla bean, with a sharper vanilla flavor that’s only hinted at in vanilla extract. Surprisingly, it turns out I don’t prefer to use vanilla beans to vanilla extract. For me, the flavor was a little too intense, and did not provide the nostalgic, homey chocolate chip cookie taste that I was looking for. If you’re looking for a more complex, interesting flavor, however, vanilla beans are a great choice. Plus, they make everything look speckled, and therefore much cooler.