Whenever I go for ice cream, I always have a hard time ordering. I know what I want, but I never get it. I go for pistachio, or cookies and cream, or some flavor of the week—because I'm paying for it and it's fattening and I shouldn't get something so vanilla.
But that's all I want: vanilla.
I admit it: I've used the "v" word, calling someone I didn't like vanilla because they were boring or otherwise generally disappointing. But vanilla itself is not boring or disappointing—it's classic and delicious beyond comprehension. How can vanilla be boring and expected when vanilla beans are one of the most exotic and expensive ingredients at the store?
As we start our month-long tour of vanilla, I should comment on the "exotic and expensive" issue. If you plan on using vanilla beans often, which I recommend you do, have a look on Amazon. While 1 vanilla bean may cost more than $6 at the supermarket, you can get them for less than a dollar if you buy in bulk online. It'll help you feel freer improvising with vanilla, and using it in less precious preparations, like this iced tea.
Iced tea is very mundane, very "vanilla," if you will. I change it up, starting with excellent quality black tea and a simple syrup made with whole vanilla bean. The sweetness of vanilla is brought out by the sugar, and counteracts the bitterness of the tea. Sweet Vanilla Iced Tea is not "vanilla" at all: it is special, easy, and simple enough to let the two great flavors of vanilla bean and black tea really take a stand.
- 6 1/2 cups water, divided
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 3 good quality black tea bags
In a small saucepot, heat 1/2 cup water and sugar over medium heat. Slit vanilla bean down the center lengthwise with a paring knife, and use the tip of the knife to scrape the seeds from the inside of the vanilla beans. Add seeds and whole bean to sugar mixture. Continue to cook until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is clear. Set aside to cool completely.
Meanwhile, heat remaining 6 cups water in a large saucepot until just before boiling. Shut off heat, and add tea bags. Allow to steep until completely cool.
Remove tea bags and vanilla beans, and discard. Mix vanilla syrup into tea, stir with a large whisk or wooden spoon. Pour into a pitcher filled with ice. Serve immediately.