vanilla bean pound cake

The truth is, I bought my very first vanilla bean only last week when I was making rice pudding. It’s not that I didn’t know how fantastic they are in all of their clarity of flavor and little-goes-a-long way charm, I was just both too cheap to buy them, and too afraid to go down that slippery slope whereby no extract would do ever satisfy me again.

I finally justified the expense by rationalizing that rice pudding is such an insanely inexpensive dessert, even half — half! — of a five-dollar* bean wasn’t that big of a deal. And I’d reuse it until it was tapped out, next time in something that didn’t require as strong of a flavor and then pulsing it in the food processor with sugar for the best sweetener in the world. Isn’t it incredible the way we fuss over a twice-reusable $2.50 expense that can carry over to a dozen or more dessert portions, but rarely note the difference between a 10 or 13 dollar pasta dish on a restaurant menu? (Oh wait, someone wrote a book on this.)

vanilla bean pound cake

This hasn’t kept me from feeling despicably posh in the week since as my worst fears were quickly confirmed: nothing else will ever do, ever. Fine, brownies don’t need freshly-scraped vanilla speckles, and maybe not banana bread either. Apple pie can do without and, yes, butter cream frosting as well. But custards, creams, puddings and, for certain, white cakes just hit the big time because, sweet mercy, fresh vanilla is a flavor more profound than chocolate. More profound. Than chocolate. Hold me.

So what am I doing with these beans, besides sticking my nose in their jar and whispering sweet nothings to them whenever we are alone together? Most embarrassingly, not much that I can share with you. The rice pudding of half-bean fame, so decadent that I felt that I was eating an entire fresh white truffle, in Paris in an outdoor café on a sunny spring day by the Seine, went ka-pouf before I took a picture. The tapioca pudding that my husband rejected (“What … is … this? Oh, god. It’s rubber. I can’t chew it. Why would you feed me this?” he sobbed), was swallowed up by my spoonfuls in just three days, the act of pausing my consumption long enough to take pictures seeming ridiculous. (“Oh this here thing?” she asks, gulping one spoonful after another, “It’s nothing special.”)

vanilla bean pound cake

But I did bake a cake, a pound cake to be exact and it gave me the chance to alleviate two fixations; one, grinding up a leftover bean with sugar, sifting it twice, and replacing the sweet component of a recipe with this blend, and two, making a real, old-school pound cake, the kind with one pound each of sugar, butter, eggs and flour and that’s it, no artificial leaveners, just as much air as you can beat into it. Of course I scaled it down to two tiny, and slightly over-filled loaves (please don’t ask about the half egg; it was a mess), and you know, clipping recipes and not getting to them for three years is dangerous because your expectations are so high and though this is a delicious cake, it leans toward the dry side of cake-dom. It has a great outer shell, though, which sort of shatters when you bite into its spongy center and it will be crazy delicious with some ice cream or grilled peaches, or both. Alone in its speckled simplicity, it doesn’t steal any shows, but it does hold it’s own. Some days, that’s enough.

vanilla bean pound cake

But wait, there’s more! Alex and I are going away next weekend on a real vacation, with a plane and a suitcase full of warmer clothes and everything! So, if you have suggestions of things we simply must do when in Savannah, Ga. or Charleston, SC, let us know. I don’t want to miss a thing.

Vanilla Bean Pound Cake
Adapted from Martha Pearl Villas, New York Times Magazine, 3/16/04

1 pound (2 cups) sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, used is fine
1 pound (4 sticks) butter, at room temperature
1 pound (9 large) eggs
1 pound (4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 325°F. In a food processor, grind vanilla bean and sugar until vanilla is as finely chopped as it can get, about one minute. Sift this mixture twice, making sure all larger pieces have been filtered out. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer, then gradually add the vanilla sugar, continuing to beat until well creamed and smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add the flour and salt, beating constantly. Add the vanilla extract and continue beating until well blended.

3. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube or bundt pan. Pour in the batter and ”spank” the bottom of the pan to distribute the batter evenly. Bake until a straw inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes, taking care not to overcook. Turn cake out onto a rack and let cool.

* I’ve since found them for well less, both online and in the non-Nielson-Massey part of the spice section. That said, this is worth considering before choosing on price alone.

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91 comments on vanilla bean pound cake

  1. tammy

    Sometimes even the most simple thing can change our feelings for a lifetime. I LOVE fresh vanilla beans… Oh, the things you can do with them. Yummy!

  2. Savannah is a charming little place! I highly recommend getting totally lost in the squares in the historical downtown area. Lots of old historical sites to see, huge old churches with great architecture, etc. It’s been ages since I’ve been there and don’t remember much. There are lots of neat little places to eat in the downtown area with great food, but again their names escape me as it’s just been too long. Oh, The Pirate’s House is a great place if you can find it. Ther web address is WONDERFUL seafood. I ate there on the 7th birthday and never will forget the tiny cupcake they made me with mounds of whip cream, sprinkles, and sparklers stuck out the top. :)

    Charleston is a lot like Savannah, but don’t tell the native’s I said that as they would probably take me out back and shoot me. Downtown is great for shopping and eating. You must must must go into the market place. You can’t miss it because it’s bloody huge. Around in the same area there is a cute little French place that Bryan and I found last time we were there. It looked way too expensive and way to uppity for us at first glance, but I’m really glad we set aside those judgments. The place is called Mistral and is located at 99 South Market St. They serve French country cuisine, but there’s also a southern Charleston flair mixed it. I can’t recommend the shrimp and grits highly enough, if you’re into the grits. :)

    Enjoy your trip to the south!

  3. rob

    Yes! It appears you’re slowly coming over to the vanilla side. Excellent….

    If you want to try the biggest, baddest, vanilla-est loaf in existence, you should try Amanda Hesser’s vanilla bean loaf. The loaf itself is made with a couple of vanilla beans, but it is then drizzled with a vanilla syrup made with yet more vanilla beans. Just thinking about it makes me weak in the knees. It is vanilla nirvana.

    Your loaves look gorgeous, and I can’t wait to see what else you do with vanilla. Hope you have a wonderful trip.

  4. deb

    Thanks Jenn! Those will go on our list.

    Rob — Yes! I have wanted to make that for so long, and I was thinking of it when I did this — I just can’t bring myself to use FOUR whole vanilla beans for two loaf cakes. (Though maybe at $1 each instead of $5, it won’t seem such a big deal.) Give me time, I’ll come around, no doubt.

  5. Sadie

    I live and work in Charleston and know that you’ll enjoy your trip here. The history, food, shopping, and architecture are unbeatable. When guests visit here are some of my favorite places to take them:
    The Aiken Rhett House for a tour. The house is virtually unchanged from when it was built in the early 1800s. There is an audio tour of the main house and its slave quarters, stables, kitchen house, etc. Most people think it’s very interesting.
    Ft. Sumter. A fun boat ride out into the harbor and you can walk around on the fort for a little while. It’s a short visit so you guys wouldn’t get too bored.
    Meals. There are a TON of great restaurants in Charleston. Some of my favorites are Hominy Grill, Fast and French (great for lunch), Slightly North of Broad, Cru Cafe, and High Cotton. Other places that are supposed to be great but that I haven’t tried yet include Peninsula Grill, Il Cortile Del Re (Italian), and FIG.
    There are lots of fancy shops and boutiques on King St. though these can be quite touristy and expensive. I don’t usually take people to the market because the things for sale are kind of junky (sorry Jenn).
    If you have a rental car and the time, drive out to Sullivan’s Island and walk on the beach. The house are gawk-worthy and the beach is wide and white. It would take you about 20 min. by car.
    Hope you and your beau have a fantastic trip!

  6. Girl, it is a slippery slope indeed, which is why it pays to make friends with your local intl grocer who will slip you fresh cardamom pods gratis.

    As for Charleston, I’m sure you know you have to go to Hominy Grill, preferably for lunch. Eat some fresh pralines from one of the places just off the market, and get yourself some boiled peanuts at a road-side stand if they are in season yet. Also Al Di La, out on Magnolia Rd, is good fancy stuff, and I am particularly partial to the shrimp and grits at 82 Queen.
    My family’s owned a place on an island in SC for 4 generations and I’ve spent nearly every summer there- eating fresh shrimp off the boats, bowls of grits, key lime pie, and 8-layer caramel cake. Hope you all have fun!

  7. sam

    Like you justifying your vanilla purchase to yourself, I have to justify the $8 a dozen eggs I buy. People sneer at me and think I am stupid then happily spend $3 on a latte or $10 on a cocktail. I have to remember these are the best eggs I have ever tasted. And that one egg is less than a dollar and will give me so much pleasure that I wouldn’t get from a 20 cent egg.
    I have to remember I would rather have one wonderful 60 cent egg that came from a well looked after free to roam chicken than 3 tasteless battery eggs at the same price.
    And if other people can’t see that makes sense, who am I to be the one to cure them of their blindness.

  8. Whenever I use vanilla bean, it’s in something that has few ingredients, where using the best absolutely makes a difference — creme anglaise, for instance; ice cream; cake. So you never have to justify spending for the best ingredients! Like Sam, I spend more to get wonderful eggs, and wonderful butter, because I know it tastes better, and that makes a difference.

  9. Charleston and Savannah are my old stomping grounds. Pretty much just wandering around will make y’all happy, but I’d find a good ghost tour while you are there. It sounds touristy, and it is, but even having lived in the area for years, I finally broke down and did a ghost tour last summer while we were there for a wedding. Both towns have amazing history, and if you like getting super creeped out and hanging on to your husband’s hand, then go for it.

  10. The cakes look fantastic, Deb – but it was that slice that almost made me drool all over my keyboard. Not pretty, shame on me. :)

    I’ve never bought/used a vanilla bean either and now I feel inspired to do so.

  11. I don’t remember any specifics but I do know that when dh and I went to Charleston we had coffee at a little bar- made and served in a French Press, our first taste of press coffee!

    The slice of the cake looks very yummy.This is the most amazing pound cake I’ve ever made. This cake recipe isn’t the one pound of each type, but it is so good your brains will fall out :) I’ve made it a number of times and it is universally loved.

  12. christine

    I adore fresh vanilla beans and use them whenever I can. One of my friends who’s been assigned the task of cooking for his fifty-person organic vegetarian co-op in Berkeley (of course in Berkeley) gave me the tip of buying vanilla beans in bulk from Ebay. It sounds really sketch, but I’ve had excellent results so far. Just to give you an idea: retail vanilla beans are $2.50 – $5.00 each; a vacuum-sealed package of ten Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans cost me $7.89.

  13. Clare Dedlock

    For vanilla beans, you can also try the Organic Vanilla Bean Company. You can get a 1/4 lb for $20 or so (they have boubon and tahitian.

  14. Amelia

    While in Charleston, definitely go to Hominy Grill (a popular mention for very, very good reason) and get thee to Peninsula Grill. Their coconut cake is an absolute masterpiece of goodness. And check to see if the historical society is doing private home tours. What you learn about the architecture and history, often from irreverent and hilarious Southern ladies, is worth every cent of the ticket price.

    As for Savannah, it’s beautiful, also has a lot of great food, but avoid avoid avoid River Street. Unless you like tourist traps. In which case, that’s the first place to go.

    And when you travel between Charleston and Savannah, take the back roads. It’s worth it to see all of the oaks dripping moss and general Southern Gothic swampiness.

  15. Jessica

    The pound cake looks amazing, but I had to tell you about something else I discovered that might cure your monthly cravings guilt-free: fat free brownies that are actually good. I know how you feel about box mixes, but there are no weird ingredients in this box. In fact, you could probably make up your own version. However, these are easy, fudgey and Fresh Direct and Amazon ( carry them.

    BTW, I made the pretzels yesterday – they were a hit with bacon scallion cream cheese!

  16. I was JUST IN CHARLESTON last weekend. Sigh.

    Take a carriage ride for your history quotient – they’re fun! Walk along the battery, gaze at Rainbow row and just breathe in the salt air. Go antiquing on King Street! Shop in the Market, of course. The farmer’s market is great if it’s open yet this year. And talk to the locals and soak in their fabulous accents. (I hope you hear someone Gullah speaking patois, too!)

    As for restaurants? Just explore. Eat she-crab soup. Try boiled peanuts, at least once (I don’t care for them, but you have to eat them once!) I used to really enjoy a little restaurant called The Mistral (near the market) – if it’s still open. It can be hit or miss – but its she-crab soup is really quite good. And Rue de John (on John Street, of course) if it’s still there has incredible sushi, believe it or not.

    The nightlife is fun, too. Dance. Drink. Flirt with your husband and talk like Scarlett. Maybe Alex can be Rhett? Mr. Butler was from Charleston, I believe.

    And you know The Lady and Sons is in Savannah, right? I don’t know how you feel about Paula Deen, but I’ve hear the restaurant is great. I haven’t made it there yet, so if you go tell us all about it. I’ve only been there a few times – once at St. Patty’s Day (madness) but it’s a beautiful place, too.

    Can you tell I like Charleston?! I’ve been there a lot since my college roommates live there.


    Um … but it was not very warm last weekend. Be prepared!

    Let me know if you have any questions about getting anywhere. I can probably help or know someone who can!

  17. Cathy

    Ditto the suggestions of the famous coconut cake at Peninsula Grill, she-crab soup and shrimp & grits just about anywhere you find them. Mmmm, I’m jealous!

  18. I LOVE your website. ” More profound. Than chocolate. Hold me.” (too funny). OK, I’m new at this………how much vanilla bean would I use instead of vanilla extract (for other recipes) I need to be stopped!

  19. Camilla

    I was just in Savannah on business earlier this month — had one really wonderful dinner at the Olde Pink House, and a slightly less wonderful one at The Lady & Sons, but only because we were a large group and ate downstairs in a private room, not in the restaurant proper. Everything was delicious, and the staff was delightful — we were just too sequestered! Wish I’d had time to eat there again. I also stopped in at Savannah Candy Kitchen based on some Food Network recommendation, but was underwhelmed. And I second the suggestion to get lost in the numerous squares in the downtown historic district — I only had time to drive around for an hour or so on my way to the airport, but it’s just gorgeous. And I’m still kicking myself that I was unable to bring home the $40 Chefmate dutch oven I saw at Target there — it got a great rating from Cooks Illustrated, and now no one has it in stock! Waaah. But Savannah is lovely — have fun!

  20. Yummy, pound cake. I love to eat it frozen or with a lemon glaze.

    If you love history, in Savanah, the cemetaries are really interesting to crawl around and look at tombstones that date to the civil war. Ofcourse, a tour around the squares are a must. You’ll find more than Paula Deen’s restaurant, go down some of the alley ways (that are in downtown in the light) and you might discover a really great southern restaurant. It’s been too long since I’ve been there to pinpoint a specific place.

    I wish you were going to be in Atlanta, then I’d send you to the Flying Biscuit for some awesome fresh baked goods with homemade apple butter. And, then to the Aquarium, where you’d encounter whale sharks. Maybe on another vacation.

  21. mollysusie

    Get ready for mimosas every morning! Because honey, you’re coming to The South!

    There’s a micro-brewery on Bay Street in Savannah that I love, Moon River. The food’s good (but not exactly original), if you’re walking by I’d recommend popping in for a drink.

  22. RA

    It’s so great to see that you thought the vanilla flavor was more profound than chocolate! I’m not a huge fan of chocolate, but I love love love vanilla, but people always see that as an indication of bland character. Hmph.

    A while back, Slate had an article ( about this very topic; check it out if you have a chance. Have fun on vacay!

  23. RA

    I think it’s great that you thought the vanilla flavor was more profound than chocolate. I’m not a big fan of chocolate, but my strong preference for vanilla has marked me as someone of bland character. Hmph.

    Slate published an article a while back about this topic (, so you might find it interesting after this revelation. Have fun on vacay!

  24. Claire

    We were stationed in Charleston, SC for a while, and two places you must visit as a foodie: Hominy Grill for great low country home cooking, and 82 Queen for the she-crab soup. My other half loves Tsunami (American friendly Japanese menu), but being Japanese, originally from NY, and a foodie snob myself, my vote is to skip Tsunami and grab decent sushi when you get back to Manhattan.

    Try the carriage tours for a quick run down of the city, and if your tour guide speaks food (and many do), they will point out all the good restaurants and what you should order at each place. As always, avoid the tourist traps with chain store sea food menus.

  25. Larry

    Hi, Deb,
    Already gave you my rundown on Charleston and Savannah – we also like Hymen’s Deli but for a Manhattanite – you probably have much better.
    Please give us all a full report on your trip -will be waiting anxiously for your opinions. You and Alex have a great time – I think you will enjoy no matter what!

  26. A Harste

    Must have the she crab soup at Gullah Cuisine in Mt. Pleasant, and fried oysters at either the Wreck of the Richard & Charlene in Mt. Pleasant or SeeWee Restaurant down the road in Awendaw. Maybe a dog and a root beer float at Jack’s Cosmic Dogs. And shrimp and grits just about anywhere!

  27. Abbey

    I also recommend buying vanilla beans from ebay! You’ll kick yourself for not doing it sooner – all those wasted years and wasted desserts without a touch of the glorious bean. It is quite possibly one of the most amazing natural flavors on earth, in my opinion. You can buy bundles of beans direct from the growers (no middlemen to jack up the price and sell you dry, sub-standard beans) – I got a quarter pound of plump, 7-8 inch beans for only $25 or so – when I counted them out it worked out to exactly a dollar a bean! woo-hoo! I immediately made, you guessed it, Rice Pudding! I wanted to test out the flavor on something so simple and creamy it would just be a perfect foil for the bean. One taste and I was hooked!

    As for Savannah and Charleston, you’ll have a great time! I took a trip there a year or two ago and was blown away by the beauty, the history, the architecture, and of course, the food! When in Savannah, you must take the time to have lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room (see It’s family-style service, and real down-home southern cooking. You’ll have to stand in line for a while, but oh my god it’s worth it! It’s like taking a step back in time and eating at your imaginary Southern grandma’s house, and you make friends with all the lovely people you sit with at the table (many of which you’ve been waiting in line with for quite some time!).

  28. Rose Marie

    I am not gonna suggest places to eat in either place you have enough people telling you that. However, when in Savannah go to Tybee Island and to the fort. The park rangers do a history in costume. Oh yeah, look out for the freshwater alligators (or crocks?) they are in the moat around the fort. Also while in Savannah don’t forget to go to the cemetary that was in the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. I forget the name of it but it is the cemetary where Johnny Mercer is buried.
    I must agree with everyone else about shopping in the Market Place. If you are into woven palm frons (?) you can get baskets in the Market Place but there are roadside stands where they weave and sell them also. I don’t know if they do that this time of year but the ones I saw were on the way to Myrtle Beach. So maybe a little side trip or at least part of one wouldn’t hurt.
    The food is great in either city, so enjoy.

  29. oh I feel guilty now… I picked up a vanilla bean from the supermarket months ago for no reason other than I liked the tin it came in. You’ve inspired me. This week I shall unleash the bean!

  30. What to see? ME!! I live in Charleston. I used to be the pastry chef for Mistral, that Jenn mentionned earlier. My husband plays in a Dixie Land Jazz band there on friday night. A lot of fun.
    Restaurant: Oak Steakhouse, Cafe Lana, Fig, Tristan, Il Cortile Del Rey
    Skip: Hyman’s Seafood, Aaron’s Deli, Peninsula Grill, Charleston place.

    The cemetery in Savannah is called Bonaventure.

    Don’t be afraid to email and ask away!

  31. A couple more things, and I am dumb I did not start there:
    Favorites of locals for reliability, food and atmosphere: S.N.O.B (Slightly North of Broad), and Sermet’s Corner, drinks on the rooftop at the Vendue Inn, tapas at Meritage.
    Bars: Club Habana, Charlie’s Little Bar.
    After many years here I found that the big shots/big names were completely inconsistant and I hate that when I pay good money.

    Attractions: depends on where you are staying and how long you will be in town. Let me know if I can help.

  32. Libby

    I’m also in Charleston, and must agree that SKIPPING Hyman’s Seafood. Way overrated and way below average. For fabulous mussels, not to mention THE best burger on the planet, check out Rue de Jean. The bar there is really good, too. For “downhome”, you can’t beat Jestine’s Kitchen. Do take a carriage tour, that will give you a good overview of the city. Be careful, though, when asking tour guides for dining advice. True – some of them will give you an honest answer, but some restaurants give tour guides coupons to hand out to tourists. They then get a kick-back from the restaurant when the coupons are turned in. Have fun!

  33. Have a swell trip! It’s a beautiful part of the U.S. and you’ll love it all no matter where you go.

    I buy vanilla beans in bulk on the internet:

    (I buy the Madagascar ones and am about to buy a half pound.)

    If you love the beans, you must make your own vanilla with a bottle of vodka and as many beans as you can stand shoved in there. I have made several bottles as gifts and now have to refill my own. A few months in a kitchen cabinet and you are set with the best vanilla you’ve ever had and it’s like sourdough starter: yours forever.

  34. Steve

    In the event that you wonder what it is like to sit down at a southern family reunion try Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room ( Wear something loose fitting though, I’ve read somewhere that the worst thing about eating at this establishment is that you will be hungry again in 4 or 5 days.

  35. Yvo

    I don’t know if someone else mentioned it yet, but I believe Paula Deen’s restaurant is in Savannah (closed on Sundays, a friend of mine learned the very hard way). If you try it, do take pictures! She seems like such a charming woman, sweet and genuine, though a bit heavy with the butter (maybe not seeming so much so after you Ina Garten recipe with … 3 lbs? of butter?). Anyway, about vanilla, I’ve been DYING to get some real vanilla beans but I’m also afraid of the same as you. Extract will never be enough. Sigh. And I feel like I’d just waste it!

    BTW, have you ever heard of just infusing sugar with the vanilla taste by putting the bean/pod in a jar with sugar and sealing it for a while (not sure how long)? Your way is obviously much faster and seemingly less wasteful, but I was just curious. Mmm, the cake looks good too…. so perfect in the first few pictures.

  36. Hi. I´ve recently come accross your blog and I´m hooked.
    I bouht a whopping 25 vanilla beans a few months back, and they sit in a bottle filled with vodka, making me feel I have a treasure. They´re the best thing ever, although I had my first fiasco yesterday. I made some creme patissiere and it tasted like it´d come out of a packet. Will keep trying.

  37. erin

    I’m just a lurker but just returned from a trip to both those cities and had to add a couple things:
    Mrs. Wilkes is a great recommendation, just for the experience. We found the food to be on par with Lady and Sons, though we liked Paula Deen’s fried chicken better. :)

    Savannah: Drive out to Tybee Island and the beach. There’s some nice marsh scenery on the way out, and a lighthouse when you get out to the beach. Also if history is of interest, check out Ft. Jackson or Ft. Pulaski.

    Charleston: there are a few plantations just outside the historic downtown area of Charleston. We went to Drayton Hall, about a 20 minute drive from our hotel which was right at the city market. This property is owned/maintained by the National Historic trust, so it’s preserved – not restored – and therefore really conveys how it looked when it was a working plantation. The market is also great, and Ft. Sumter. Make sure you check into the boat schedules for Ft. Sumter. When we were there, there were only 3 boats a day since it’s the slow time of year.

  38. Irene

    I am very familiar with vanilla bean buyer’s remorse, but I agree there really is no substitute. And once you amortize the cost, it’s totally worth it. I have recently bought a jar of vanilla paste and am curious to see how it compares. If you want a truly divine old school pound cake recipe, I recommend one from “Baking with Julia.” It’s the vanilla pound cake baked in a tube pan. It’s dense, moist, and heavenly.

  39. M

    Love your site! I’m de-lurking to tell you about Folly Beach. My husband and I moved to Charleston, literally sight unseen based soley on an internet quiz ( The quiz didn’t steer us wrong; we love Charleston. And though we live in LA now, we went back to Folly to be married. If an old hippie beach that hasn’t been completely commercialized where you just feel like a local sounds appealing, Folly Beach, about 15 minutes from Downtown Charleston, can’t be beat.

  40. Jill

    Savannah. Oh, that I could fly in to revisit the best sandwich of my life. Try the Sweet Leaf Smokery on Abercorn Street for lunch. You won’t be disappointed. It’s a short walk from Forsyth park, and after you eat you can walk to E. Shaver Booksellers to work off all that corn pudding.

  41. Erik

    I went with my wife Abby and daughter to Charleston and Savannah almost exactly 2 years ago. My favorites from each were already mentioned: Jestine’s Kitchen and the Lady and Sons. (The latter was when they had recently moved to their expanded location and before P.Deen was quite as hyped as she is now. Abby said the fried chicken there was the best she’s had anywhere ever. I had shrimp+grits which were excellent.) If you have a car take plenty of time to drive between the two. Beaufort SC is really attractive and you can certainly relax and drink well there, though I don’t remember much about the food. Route 17 and its backroads are full of spots selling jams, honey, pecans, and various other local goodies to taste.

  42. sam

    is this a terrible comfession? you inspired me to buy a vanilla pod from wholefoods last saturday.
    when I got home, the vanilla pod was in my basket, but it wasn’t on my bill. I think it was so small the cahsier must have swept it through with some other stuff.
    I feel bad and feel I should admit it to them, but if I admitted it I think they would just laugh at me for having done so. I am sure it alone would have added a hefty percentage to my shopping total. I think next time I go in I will tell them. I wouldn’t even have known except I am currently keeping a record of everything I spend on food which is why I noticed it was missing.
    so now i have a new vanilla pod and I was too lazy to even make the recipe for which I bought it.

  43. I’m de-lurking to say that I LOVE your blog (reading it, looking at your lovely photos, and perusing the recipes are one of my favorite treats of the week), and I am excited that you are going to Charleston and Savannah, two of my favorite destinations. When my husband and I visited those cities we enjoyed just walking around the neighborhoods and looking at the beautiful architecture; you can tour the interiors of many of the historic homes, if you are interested in that. Charleston is picture perfect, and Savannah is lovely but has some seedy areas around the historic district. Somehow Savannah seemed more culturally southern and “real” to me, and I liked it just a bit better than Charleston for that reason. However, I second Amelia’s comment that the tourist trap of River Street in Savannah should be avoided.

    I agree with Abbey, Erin, and Steve’s comments about Mrs. Wilkes restaurant in Savannah; I had one of my favorite meals EVER there (I love cooking and eating–and, like you, have had the pleasure of dining in Paris–so that is saying something). When I ate at Mrs. Wilkes, it was only open for lunch, not dinner, and we had to wait in line a while, but it was so very worth it. We had dinner at Paula Deen’s restaurant, Lady and Sons, but we both agreed that we enjoyed the food a lot more at Mrs. Wilkes. Have a great trip!

  44. Another Charlestontonian here. I second the calls for Hominy Grill (where I eat almost every sunday morning. The brunch there is magnificent) and Rue de Jean, which is my favorite restaurant in the city. The cravings for mussles wake me up in the middle of the night. If you are into seafood, let me reccomend Hank’s, which is in the most prime location ever, right in the middle of downtown. It is has a fabulous ambiance, like you are back in the 40s and the food is un-freaking-believable. Their Boullibaisse is so good that I almost crawled in the bowl and bathed in it.

    As for sites, Drayton Hall is my favorite of the plantations, but it can be a hassle to get to if you don’t have a car. The Aiken Rhett house downtown is fabulous, and off the beaten track. Also, try not to miss the old Powder Magazine, which is a tiny little museum but really interesting.

    Hope you have fun down here! The weather has been magnificent lately.

  45. Birdita

    Thank you for giving me even futher desire to use vanilla beans. I have been contemplationg, and now am definitely going to go for it and purchase some. You are an excellent motivator for me to experiment with new things. Love your writing and truely appreciate all the work and effort you put into sharing your lovely creations!

    The recipe instructions at the end of step 2 says “add the vanilla and lemon juice.” I don’t see lemon juice on ingredient list. Is it missing from list, or not used in this recipe?

    Thanks =)

  46. I too, recently went to the pearly gates of the vanilla bean! I used it to make Orange- ginger creme brulee ( I was trying for a lowfat version and thought that the vanilla bean might be the thing to make up for the fat. It was very tasty but did not do that vanilla bean justice.(going to re-work the recipe probably full fat version But let me tell you when I was heating the ginger ,orange zest and vanilla bean. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The aroma was AMAZING!It took everything in me to NOT stop right there and drink the entire thing! I am sure you would have found me later curled up in the fetal position with a blankie, sucking my thumb, blissfully sleeping and occasionally having a little hiccough that emmited the aroma of orange and vanilla !

  47. serac

    My boyfriend’s mom got me a few vanilla beans for Christmas, and I haven’t yet used them because I am afraid to waste their preciousness on something underwhelming. I am looking for that very special receipe to jump up and grab me, but I guess I should just give it a whirl one of these days.

    As for Charleston and Savannah, I agree with the wandering around to see the sites. Definately check out the battery in Charleston for some of the nicest houses around. And for food, my choice would be dinner at SNOB (Slightly North of Broad). I am biased though because the chef there is one of my dad’s high school buddies. He is also a world renowned southern chef with french leanings.

  48. Mel

    Ok, Obviously you are going to go to the Hominy Grill. but while you are there, pick up their cookbook. it’s tiny and won’t weigh down your suitcase. The shrimp and grits (while never the same as they are in the restaurant) are pretty good when replicated at home. and definitely get the chocolate pudding.

    I have to say i’m partial to the beach on Sullivan’s Island. it is heaven on earth. literally.

    by the way, i’m a long time loyal reader from before the ivillage days. i’m constantly inspired by your recipes, especially the bread baking (which is quickly becoming an obsession with me!).

    thank you!

  49. moonablaze

    I second the recommendation for ebay/organic vanilla bean company. The beans are fat and juicy and wonderful. Alton Brown’s recipe for vanilla bean creme brule is amazing. also, stick a split (or even used and dried) bean in a jar with some granulated sugar to make vanilla sugar (so far I’ve gotten 7 or 8 cups of sugar out of one bean). try THAT in your sugar cookies or meruenges! amazing.

  50. Michelle


    Charleston- For drinks, if it’s warm outside, check out the “Library at Vendue” for the Rooftop view of the city. I went there for a post-rehearsal dinner party and had a great time having some drinks and relaxing.

  51. Michelle

    One more thing from me…this is from my friend who lives in the Charleston area:

    There are so many great places to eat. Downtown – High Cotton, Magnolias, Slightly North of Broad- all pricey but delicious. More casual would be Basil on King St (Thai food), any places along the market.

    Shem Creek in mt. pleasant has GREAT atmosphere- a place called Red’s is a favorite hang out for bar food and drinks- VERY casual- we usually get there by boat.

    Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms have a bunch of good places to eat and the beach.

  52. Michelle R.

    Love, love, love Savannah! It has a more artsy, real-people (unpretentious) vibe than Charleston, to me (and this is from someone who’s from South Carolina.) I just went earlier this month and found added two new must-dos to my list: Back in the Day Bakery, the Owens-Thomas House and Leopold’s ice cream parlor. The bakery is very cute, with great homemade desserts, but they also serve lunch and coffee – plus really friendly staff. The Owen-Thomas house is probably the most unique historic home I’ve ever toured – the architect was very fanciful and brilliant. Our tour guide was great too. It’s right on one of the squares in the historic district (can’t recall which one) and operated by the Telfair Museum. Leopold’s has an old-school soda fountain vibe, plus a great back story and unique ice cream flavors. The Lady & Sons has great Southern food – Sunday is the day to go, I think, because they have buffet all day and you can sample everything. The ghost walking tours are also really fun and interesting.

  53. Lizzy

    My sweetie lived in Charleston for a few years and I have nothing but blissful memories of my visits with him there.

    The little French lunch counter with wonderful press coffee someone else mentioned is Gaulard et Maliclet–it is so perfect for a cozy, simple brunch for lovebirds. (and pretty cheap too!) It’s on Broad Street. The staff are very friendly and locals like to hang out and chat on weekend mornings–a great step off of the typical tourist path.

    I also recommend Poogan’s Porch and Hominy Grill for lowcountry food. The head chef/owner of Hominy Grill is married to the producer of the Spoleto arts festival (nice community connection there), and he used to be sous chef at Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, NC, if you’ve ever visited that gem. Poogan’s porch has intimate little balconies up in the trees, highly recommended if it’s warm enough to eat outside. Be careful, though it may be warmer than New York, it can get pretty windy (such a blessing when it’s 98 degrees!).

    Basil, a Thai restaurant on the North end of King Street is also very good and trendy.

    Have a great trip!

  54. Jennifer P

    Lived in Savannah for 10 years. Didn’t read many of the previous comments, but You should visit Paula Deen’s restuarant (The Lady & Sons) and Mrs. Wilkes if you have time, also Elizabeth’s on 37th if you have the $$ as she runs a 5-star I believe. Lady & Sons is the best of casual food, Elizabeth’s the best of fine dining. Skip the Pirate’s house, sadly, what was excellent years ago is now more of a tourist trap and the food has suffered.
    There’s an awesome little Japanese Hibachi-style/sushi restaurant on “the southside” called Hirano’s… cheap, delicious. Usually a line out the door, but not much for atmosphere.
    As for what to do? Just walk the squares, shop, eat, take pictures… head to Riverstreet or City Market for nightlife, and RELAX!

  55. I know well from whence you speak! I have this friend who somehow has friends from Madagascar who brought her a bunch of beans … hand delivered from Madagascar! Three precious pods made their way to me. Occasionally I split open the ziplock and breathe them in. But I have yet to split husk. Can’t bring myself. Same cheapness/slippery slope issues. What is wrong with us?!

  56. i am lucky enough to work for billionaires as chef and never have to worry about food costs. In one sense it allows me to create wondeful dishes with no worry to cost but reading this article brings me back to the reality most people face, budgeting! I remember backpacking around Oz and there is something special about feeding 8 people for 15 dollars with great Irish Stew and crispy bread!

  57. As I read about the rice pudding, the vanilla bean, and the subsequent cake, I began to think that leftover rice pudding could be nicely incorporated into a cake. Maybe I will have to work on that.

    Just looking at your, and other, sites, it is difficult to imagine how far we have come from the farm table, from the Garden of Eden, from hunting and gathering – in practice, at least – but what about our hearts? Thanks for lots of lovely pics and recipes. Beth

  58. Just made this cake for my 27th birthday last night. Because of you and your cake posts, I’ve decided to start a tradition of making homemade birthday cakes for friends and family. I balked slightly at putting 9 eggs and a whole pound of butter into a cake, but decided for birthdays you just ‘go big or go home’. One piece of anything won’t kill you.

    I made it exactly as you called for. I put mine in a bundt pan and baked for 1 hour and 10 minutes. I made a simple strawberry sauce with strawberries, sugar (just a touch because they are so ripe at this time of year), and water and served it in a small dish on the side to dunk the cake in. The cake doesn’t need the sauce at all but adds just a touch of fruitiness for those that like it.

    Wonderful. Thank you for the recipe.

  59. Luwanda


  60. Anne

    I just made this recipe last night, and it is SCRUMPTIOUS. It’s even better the next day–it’s dense and chewy and generally wonderful.

    I made it in a 10-cup bundt pan (sadly, was what I had), so it rose out of the pan a fair bit. That being said, it still baked wonderfully and without incident.

    Thanks for posting the recipe!

  61. Francheska

    I just had my first experience with vanilla beans(and online shopping), I ordered 25 Madagascar beans from eBay (For just 9.99!) and I was HISTERICAL because mom wouldn’t hurry up and get home with THE package I had been waiting for days, So I ran downstairs sniffed the package, Gnashed at it like a wild woman and I was surprised, They smell sort of like raisins and tobacco to me, Am I crazy? Anyway I cannot wait to ” go to town on them” with my knife as my boyfriend would say, I’ll make this, I’ll make your vanilla flecked pears, I’ll make double vanilla cupcakes and Panna Cotta and everything in between.

  62. Jessica

    i’ve just been flipping through your blog with the “surprise me” feature since i can’t sleep, and this post just made me laugh so hard i woke up my bulldog. and let me tell you, waking that snorer is no small feat.

  63. Sarah

    Costco has a pretty good deal on Vanilla Beans too. If I recall, it was maybe $10 or $12 for 10 Madagascar beans.

    Gonna make this pretty little pound cake this weekend for my momma. Nothing says “Happy Mother’s Day, I love you!” like baked goods :)

  64. Greta

    Is there any way I could make this without owning a food processor? Like, maybe using a blender, or just scraping out the seeds and omitting the pod altogether? Someone told me they wanted to give me a vanilla bean, and I thought of this recipe automatically. Because every recipe of yours is so great. Seriously. Thanks!

  65. Katie

    I 1/3 the recipe here (didn’t want to deal with non-whole eggs) and it made a slightly small loaf cake (my loaf pan might have been larger). Really delicious. I’ve gotten into vanilla cakes more, I used to be a chocolate/everything but the kitchen sink dessert type of girl, but the milder vanilla flavor has really been doing it for me later. Also a really easy cake to make.

  66. Dass

    I don’t get when the recipe calls for a bundt pan and the picture is of loaves. Makes me dubious of…something. Why the disparity?

  67. Sally

    The next time you find yourself with pound cake on hand, try a slice toasted and buttered at breakfast. If yours is a pop-up toaster take it out of the slot very carefully; it’s soft and very fragile–no forks! I have bamboo toast tongs and try to get them at least halfway down the sides of the slice before lifting the slice out.

  68. Deidre

    I have a quick question. I’m going to a fondue party in a few days, and I was thinking of taking this. Do you think that it would hold up to being cubed and dipped in chocolate, or is it too fragile? If it’s not suitable for dipping in fondue, do you have any other suggestions? Thanks for your help!

  69. Prissnboot

    So am i correct in understanding you can use the outer shell of the bean and grind it up in the food processor with the sugar? It wont have a weird texture in the cake? I anxiously await your response but in thd meantime i will use the seed pods only and use the bean shells to make vanilla extract. Cant wait to try this!!!!!

    1. deb

      Temperature always stays the same. The baking time might not be very different; just check it 10 minutes earlier and every 5 minutes after that to be safe.

  70. Kayley

    I am in love with this recipe, but my second time around I was thinking of trying out the batter in a thinner pan (So I can layer with some raspberry ganache). Is it possible to bake something as dense as pound cake in a 9 inch square pan, or am I doomed to a life of raw cake centers?

    1. deb

      Kayley — It will bake just fine in a square pan. Loaf pan shapes are actually the trickiest to get to bake through, because of the height.

  71. TerriSue

    Dear Deb,
    I just wanted to tell you that I usually take your recipes as gospel. I found the recipe from your curry recipes and then it said next day pound cake, so I clicked. I like you have always wanted to make a “real” pound cake. You just didn’t sound all that pleased with the result. I went on down and started to read the comments. When I came on the one from Rob it hooked me. I went on Google and looked up Amanda Hesser’s vanilla bean loaf. It came right up. I also happened to have a small zip-loc bag of vanilla beans I had gotten from Amazon. 20 beans for 9.50 prime shipping. I’ve been hoarding them so long they are just beginning to dry out. I had 12 left. This seemed like a good time to try this cake. I have to tell you, this was the BEST Cake.

    Product Details

    World Assortment Vanilla Beans 3 types x 10 beans = 30 total Madagascar Tahitian FREE SHIPPING!


    Product Details

    5 Madagascar Vanilla Beans


    You can afford Vanilla Beans Deb!!!!!
    You have got to try this cake Deb.

  72. s k

    Recipe fail. This recipe makes way too much for a bundt cake pan. I made recipe exactly as written. The amount filled bundt cake pan, I was doubtful about placing it in the oven that full. But, went ahead. The batter rose up, and out of the hole in the middle of the pan.

    So, make in loaf pans, or partial bundt pan. Place bundt pan in lower part of oven, otherwise the cake won’t be done in 75 minutes.

  73. Melissa

    Hi Deb! I want to make this but I don’t have a bundt pan- do you know what size loaf pan I could use? Do you think a 9×5 would work?