Although I'm not working as a pastry chef any more, I still love to bake. My kitchen shelves are packed with all kinds of sugar, three types of flour (all-purpose, cake and bread), chocolates and cocoa, infusions (vanilla extract, orange flower water and rose water) and liqueurs, while my freezer has spices, nuts, unsalted butter and raw doughs so I can bake fresh tartlets and cookies for guests. One of my favourite flavourings is vanilla, which I use in the forms of pods, extract and vanilla sugar. Vanilla extract is made from the pods, which are infused with alcohol and, usually, a little sugar. When buying extract, read the label to make sure that it's labelled 'pure vanilla extract', and not vanilla flavouring, which is a synthetic vanillin. The pure extract is expensive, but worth it. Vanilla pods are difficult to find in Hong Kong (Oliver's has them), and very expensive because of the labour-intensive, time-consuming curing process. They come from Madagascar (usually labelled Bourbon vanilla), Mexico and Tahiti, and the fans of each all claim that theirs are the best. The pods look completely unassuming - like dried up twigs - but the aroma is incredible. To get the most out of vanilla pods, slit them lengthwise with a sharp knife, then scrape out the tiny seeds. Put the seeds and the pod into the mixture - the most flavour is released when they're infused in a hot liquid. After infusing, remove the pod (leave the tiny seeds in), rinse it under cold running water, then dry it at low heat in an oven or at room temperature. Use the dry pod to make vanilla sugar - put it in an airtight container of castor or icing sugar, and its fragrance will permeate into the sugar. Use whenever you make desserts. While I love vanilla in all its classic preparations - pastry cream, vanilla sauce, creme brulee and creme caramel - one of my favourite desserts is vanilla ice-cream. Split a pod (or two) lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Put the seeds and pod into a saucepan with two cups of whole milk. Heat slowly, stirring frequently, until the milk comes to a simmer. Whisk together six egg yolks, a tiny pinch of salt and half a cup of castor sugar. Add half a cup of the hot milk into the yolks and immediately whisk so the yolks don't scramble. Whisk in another half cup of milk, then stir the milk/yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture lightly coats the spoon. Strain through a fine sieve. Cool down quickly over a bowl of ice water, then chill in the fridge. Process in an ice-cream maker.