What a coincidence – a post about vanilla ice cream so soon after a Basics entry on vanilla! Well, maybe not so much a coincidence than the workings of my rather simplistic mind. (Write Basics post, write relevant recipe post.)
And, yes, I do know that you don’t exactly bake ice cream. But with all the inordinately sunny days we’ve been having lately, I can’t help thinking of cool, refreshing ice creams. While I may not be adhering to the baking part of the equation, I will still keep it to the basics. And what’s more basic than vanilla ice cream? It’s by far the number one ice cream flavour in the world.
Okay, I want to give you the bad news up-front: you’re going to need an ice cream machine for this one. The good news is that fairly decent ones are not too expensive. (Here’s the model I currently own.) Most domestic ice cream makers work on the same principle: there’s a bowl that you chill beforehand that’ll help to freeze your ice cream mixture, and a churner that aids the formation of tiny ice crystals so you get ice cream instead of an icicle.
As you can see from the speckled surface of my ice cream, I’ve splurged and used a vanilla pod. If you’re not feeling too extravagant, vanilla extract works fine as well. This recipe also uses a conventional “custard” approach, which is to heat dairy with egg yolks and sugar.
- 300ml whole milk
- 300ml double cream (“Whipping” cream will do as well.)
- 1 vanilla pod (or 1 tbsp vanilla extract)
- 4 egg yolks
- 100g caster sugar
Step 1: Put the bowl of your ice cream maker into the freezer a day ahead.
Step 2: Split a vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. Put both the seeds and the bean into a saucepan with the milk and double cream. Bring the mixture just to a boil, and then set aside for 15 minutes to infuse.
Step 3: While the dairy mixture is infusing, in a bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar until the sugar has dissolved and the egg yolks have lightened and thickened slightly.
Step 4: Remove the vanilla bean from the dairy. (Don’t throw it away; wash it under a running tap, let it air-dry, and stick it in some sugar to get vanilla sugar!) Pour about a quarter of the hot dairy mixture into the bowl of egg yolks and sugar. Whisk briskly to combine. Add another quarter of the hot mixture and whisk it into the yolks. Then, pour all of the yolk-dairy mixture into the saucepan with the dairy and vanilla.
This procedure is known as “tempering.” What you’re trying to do here is to slowly raise the temperature of the egg yolks to reduce the risk of curdling. Try dumping the yolks into the hot dairy all at once and you’re likely to get scrambled eggs.
Step 5: Place the saucepan over a gentle heat and stir constantly. What most ice cream recipes will tell you at this point is to cook the mixture until it has “thickened” or “coats the back of a spoon.” That sounds vague to me and a little scary given that the mixture can curdle if overheated.
To take the guesswork out of cooking custard, whip out a thermometer. You’ll want to heat the custard slowly to 80°C (175°F), which should be the perfect temperature at which the mixture thickens without curdling.
Step 6: When your custard is ready, let it cool to room temperature. Then, store it in the fridge for at least a couple of hours or up to a day. This accomplishes two things: (1) when the custard is cool, it’ll be much quicker to freeze, giving us finer ice crystals and a better texture to our ice cream; and (2) if you have the patience, “aging” the ice cream mixture overnight actually improves its flavour.
Step 7: Set up your ice cream maker and turn it on. Pour in the custard as the churner is moving and let it run for at least 30 minutes.
Step 8: Your ice cream is basically ready now, but it’s more like soft serve. For something firmer, just pour the ice cream into a box with an air-tight lid and place it in the freezer for at least a couple of hours.
Phew! I’ll admit it’s a lot of work for just ice cream. It’s really not difficult to do, just takes a bit of time to accomplish.
But that’s why when I do find the time to make ice cream, I want it to be extra special, hence the vanilla bean. It’s also going to taste a million times better than any cheap store-bought ice cream, and it’ll be a heck of a lot cheaper than the premium ones which cost an arm and a leg for each pint.
Best of all, once you’ve mastered this basic recipe, every other flavour imaginable is within your reach.