Using vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract gives vanilla ice cream -- and lots of other sweets -- an intense vanilla flavor and brown confetti-like flecks.
Vanilla beans are easy to use. You can soften the bean by heating it in a half-and-half mixture, which makes the pod easier to split open. But even a dry vanilla bean can be cut lengthwise with a paring knife. After it's open, scrape out the tiny seeds -- they're loaded with flavor.