Mark Bittman's chocolate vanilla layer cake contains both cocoa powder and a whole chopped up vanilla bean. I have never chopped up a vanilla bean, and when I read the recipe had to try it immediately. As I've said before, one of my problems with chocolate is that it overpowers all other flavors, especially shy ones, like vanilla.
But maybe vanilla is not so shy as we had thought! The flavor of this cake was spectacular. It was definitely chocolatey, but there was this intense, warm vanilla presence unlike anything I've tasted before in a cake. Bittman describes it as a "perfumey and musky aroma" and I guess that will have to do, though I'm never sure about using the word "musky."
The cake contained little bits of soft vanilla bean that some people took for raisins. I think if you ground the bean in a food processor you could avoid this, though it wasn't really a problem.
I am now eager to chop up more vanilla beans and throw them in sugar cookies and shortbread and ice cream and if I buy them from amazon, I can actually afford to. No, I'm not shilling for amazon, I'm just shocked at how much cheaper they are in bulk from amazon than at the supermarket. I wonder if the amazon beans are any good.