If you are enamored with the taste of real vanilla bean then it is certain that when you are done scraping the vanilla bean seeds to steep into cream for your creme brûlée or gelato or folding them into your meringue, marshmallow, or cobbler filling, what you are left with is a lot of vanilla bean pods. And no doubt you have been warned not to throw it away.
Pack it in half a cup or so of sugar, shake it up, and save it for a lovely vanilla infused hot cocoa or to add into your morning muffins. Yes, I do that too and it works well enough, but frankly I taste no difference between a little vanilla extract and the vanilla bean pod infused sugar in the finished product. It just doesn’t serve up the same heady, warm, and frankly exotic flavor that the vanilla bean seeds do. I can tell that it is just the used up husk of what it was.
To really get the most out of your expensive, sad, and worn out vanilla bean pod, make a compote. And not just any compote, but this vanilla pear-apple one. Similar to steeping the seeds in hot heavy whipping cream in advance of making fancy chocolates, ice creams, and other dairy based treats, using the pod not only frees the remaining bits of vanilla seeds into the fruit juices, but enables the juice to soak into the pod itself.
We went camping last week in heavenly Yosemite and ended up with a lot of leftover, ripe pears begging to be cooked into something marvelous.
When my daughter began to eat solid foods a year or so ago, I was always searching for ways to cook fruits such as apples and pears so that the rest of us were not just eating baby food. This compote–in no way an applesauce or pearsauce–is out of this world. There is no sugar at all. The vanilla bean tickles your taste buds into the impression that you are feasting upon a delicate and sumptuous dessert. And as any family friendly “dessert” should be, it takes 5 minutes of peeling and chopping (unless you are an Iron Chef in which case it should take 2 minutes) and tantalizes the masses.
Every time I have even a quarter of a vanilla bean husk leftover, I make this. In my opinion, it is the most delicious thing to do with it. If you want to use only pears, do so, but do not use merely apples. The silky texture and juicy caramel flavor of the pears is crucial. If you have leftovers from breakfast (or dessert), add this to yogurt, irish oatmeal with a tablespoon of organic cream, or atop a tangy creme fraiche-whipped cream blend. If you have puffed pastry on hand for a 10 minute quick tart, or would like to swap this in for raisins instead of raisin-cinnamon bread, it would be divine. (And I am preemptively jealous because sadly, ours from this morning is already gone.)
Vanilla Pear-Apple Compote
4 very ripe pears
1/4-1/2 empty vanilla bean pod
Peel, core, and roughly chop the pears and apples. Add them and the vanilla pod to a pot. Cover and cook on medium for 15-20 minutes, depending upon the softness of the texture you want, stirring every five minutes. There will be noticeable chunks of pear and apple, not a smooth sauce.