Vanilla sugar is a commonly used ingredient in many German desserts. It is a convenient way to add a strong vanilla flavor without any additional liquid. It is not always easy to find in United States grocery stores. If you need a fast replacement, the vanilla sugar substitutes below can work.
Your best bet: Make your own vanilla sugar
Vanilla sugar contains two ingredients, and they are both described in its name. In the classic version of this ingredient, the vanilla flavor comes from vanilla beans and not from an extract. The ratio of vanilla to sugar is up to you. You can adjust this according to taste or what your budget allows. Keep in mind that the longer you wait to use your vanilla sugar, the more of the vanilla flavor the sugar will take on.
There are a couple of different ways that you can combine the vanilla and sugar. One is to split the vanilla beans and place them along with the sugar in an airtight container and leave for no less than three weeks. Shake every few days to help the flavor infuse throughout the sugar. This will give you flavorful, white sugar crystals that look like regular sugar.
Alternatively, you can scrape the vanilla seeds from the split bean pods into the sugar along with the empty pods. Shake every other day or so just like the previous method. Placing the seeds directly into the sugar will give you vanilla sugar more quickly (one or two weeks instead of three), but your sugar will be tan or brown depending on your ratio of sugar to vanilla beans.
A third method is to place the sugar into a blender and scrape the seeds into it then add the empty pods. Blend thoroughly and sift. You can use this vanilla sugar right away.
An alternative to using vanilla beans is to use extract. Simply combine homemade or commercial vanilla extract with sugar. Shake thoroughly and use it as you would any other kind of vanilla sugar.
A decent second choice: Vanilla extract
Homemade or commercial vanilla extract by itself can provide the vanilla flavor in cake batters, cookie dough, and other similar applications. It won’t have the sweetness of vanilla sugar but you may not need it if the recipe has other sweeteners.
Vanilla extract may actually be a superior option in recipes where the grainy nature of vanilla sugar would pose a problem. For example, vanilla extract will blend more easily into frostings and icings than vanilla sugar.
The drawback of vanilla extract is that you can’t use it as a topping, which is one of the main uses for vanilla sugar.
In a pinch: Sugar
One of the main purposes of vanilla sugar is to provide sweetness, which is what plain refined sugar will do. It is perfect for sprinkling onto baked goods and for making simple syrup.
Regular refined sugar will provide everything that you would get from vanilla sugar except for the vanilla flavor, but that may not be a problem if your recipe calls for a separate source of vanilla or if you can add it separately.
Vanilla beans are the source of the vanilla flavor in vanilla sugar and all other forms of vanilla flavoring. They are pretty versatile and are easily added to cake and muffin batters as well as to bread dough and ice cream.