Ice cream is probably my favorite dessert, even over pastries. Whoa.
Wherever I travel, I seek out the “best” ice cream, and I usually go with my favorite flavor, mint chocolate chip, to see if they’re worth their salt. But I confess, I’m a sucker two other flavors, especially when I’m making ice cream at home: a deep, dark, silky plain chocolate ice cream, and a delectable vanilla bean custard. You’ll be getting the latter recipe today.
While I loooooove chocolate, it’s not nearly as versatile as vanilla, in my opinion, and sometimes, I want something, well, vanilla. I want the flavors of the cream and milk to shine through the subtler delight of vanilla beans and extract. I also like adding things to my ice cream (like brownies) or ice cream to my things (like pie), and nothing beats a good vanilla ice cream for these purposes.
Notice, of course, that I say good vanilla. The key to good vanilla ice cream is making sure every one of your ingredients is the best you can get. Our most recent batch is made with the thickest, most unctuous grass-fed cream we’ve ever seen, and ohhhh man is it good. (Yes, I’m heavy on the adjectives today. Sorry not sorry.)
I also make sure I’m using good vanilla beans (I’m one of those people that asks for vanilla beans as a birthday present), and real vanilla extract. I’m usually more than okay using imitation vanilla in baked goods, as any nuances of expensive vanilla is lost in high heat, but I use the good stuff in my ice cream, since the flavor is front and center.
Can you use imitation extracts and no vanilla beans? Sure. Is it going to be as good as it could? I seriously doubt it.
I believe I’ve said what I want to say, and I believe you’re ready to take on some seriously tasty vanilla ice cream. Let’s do this!
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
This is a simple ice cream with simple flavors. Use the best stuff - eggs, cream, milk, and vanilla - that you can get your hands on.
you will need:
- 2 c heavy cream
- 1 c whole milk
- 1 vanilla bean
- 5 egg yolks
- ¾ c white sugar
- pinch of kosher salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Slice the vanilla bean down the middle (you’ll want to open it like a jacket) and, using the knife, scrape the seeds from the bean. Set aside.
- Whisk together the milk, 1 cup of the cream, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan, and warm the mixture in a medium saucepan (just until you see steam – you don’t want to boil it). Remove from the heat, and add the vanilla seeds and bean. Steep for 30 minutes.
- Pour the remaining 1 cup of cream into a large bowl, and set a fine-mesh strainer on top of the bowl. Fill another, larger bowl about halfway with ice and water for your ice bath. Set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. While whisking, slowly pour the warm cream-sugar-milk mixture into the eggs (there isn’t much risk of curdling here, as the milk mixture is warm rather than hot), then pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring and scraping constantly with a rubber spatula, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula. You will know you have the right consistency when your mixture coats your spatula, and you can run your finger through the mixture on the spatula and the line stays (nothing oozes back in place). Remove pan immediately from heat.
- Pour the custard over the fine-mesh strainer into the bowl of cream. Set the custard bowl into the ice bath, and stir the custard, scraping the sides of the bowl, until it is cold (i.e., feels as if it had been refrigerated) to the touch.
- You have two options here: one, you can cover the bowl and refrigerate the mixture for 4 hours or up to overnight. Some recipes insist that you do this, or your ice cream will not set. This is markedly false: as long as your mixture is cold (not just cool) after the ice bath, your ice cream absolutely will churn properly. So option two is to go ahead and churn your ice cream according to your ice cream maker’s directions.
- You can either eat the soft-serve right away, or place the ice cream in a freezer-safe container and allow it to harden for 4-8 hours before serving.