Homemade vanilla bean ice cream
Jo loved the “Sock of the Month Club” that I gave her for her birthday last year so much that she decided to do something similar for my birthday this year. She created a “Spice of the Month Club” for me, and each month she’s going to give me a new spice, herb, or seasoning to try. I love to cook, so I’m really excited about this!
The first month’s gift was a pair of vanilla beans, which are a luxury I had never before afforded myself. I knew instantly what I wanted to make with it — rich and decadent vanilla ice cream. And boy did it taste great! Here’s my recipe.
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 1 1/2 cups half-and-half
- 1 cup sugar
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Note that you could reduce the fat content of the ice cream by shifting down from heavy cream to half-and-half or milk, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re going to bother with making ice cream at home, you might as well make it worth your effort!
Make the custard base
The first thing to do is prepare the ice bath that you’ll use after the custard base is cooked. Start by placing a large bowl in the sink and filling it 1/3 with ice cubes. Add about a cup of water. Then take a second, smaller bowl and nestle it in the ice.
Now pour your 1 1/2 cups heavy cream into the smaller bowl and place a fine mesh strainer in the bowl, so that it is all set for straining your custard base later.
Put five egg yolks into a bowl and whisk them with a fork until smooth.
Put the 1 1/2 cups of half-and-half into a saucepan and place it on the stove, but don’t turn it on yet.
Put your vanilla bean on a cutting board and use a small, sharp paring knife to carefully cut a slit down the length of the bean, opening it. Then turn the knife and run the blade firmly down the length of the bean, scraping out the seeds (also called “caviar”).
Take a moment to smell the wonderful aroma coming from those seeds, then drop them into the waiting half-and-half.
Now add the 1 cup of sugar to the half-and-half in the pan, and stir well.
At this point, you can turn the stove on. Slowly heat the mixture up on low to medium-low heat until it is heated thoroughly and just barely begins to steam.
While it’s heating, you can ponder what to do with your empty vanilla bean pod. It still has plenty of flavor left in it, and you don’t want to waste it. I stuck mine into a container and covered it in sugar. I’m told that after a week or two, I’ll have some really yummy vanilla sugar!
Now take about 1/2 cup of the hot milk mixture out and drizzle it slowly into the waiting egg yolks, whisking quickly the entire time. This will temper your eggs so that they don’t turn into giant, cooked globs when they hit the saucepan.
When the egg is tempered, slowly drizzle it back into the saucepan, whisking the entire time, until it’s all incorporated. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and reaches between 160 and 170 degrees F. The custard should be velvety smooth.
When you’ve reached the right temperature, pour the custard into the waiting strainer, which will remove any bits of egg that might be present. Allow the custard to go straight into the cream in the bowl below, and stir well to combine. (At this point you may find it difficult to resist drinking the custard straight from the bowl!)
Continue to stir the mixture occasionally over the next 15-20 minutes until it is cooled. Then pour into a bowl and stick in the refrigerator overnight, or until very, very cold.
Freezing the ice cream
The next day, when your ice cream base is completely chilled, go ahead and pull out your ice cream maker. There are lots of great ice cream makers available these days, but if all you’ve got is Grandma’s old hand-cranked maker, that will work too!. Mine is a KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment that goes right into my regular stand mixer. I love it, because there are so few parts for me to store, and it does a great job.
Go ahead and freeze the ice cream according to the directions on your ice cream maker. It won’t take long for it to freeze into a wonderful, soft-serve concoction that tastes pretty darn good right out of the bowl!
During the last few minutes of mixing, you can optionally add in whatever flavorings, nuts, or candies you like. For me, though, vanilla is the ultimate flavor. Especially with that yummy vanilla bean!
To harden your ice cream as fast as possible, dump it into a shallow glass pan and smooth it out. Cover it with a piece of plastic wrap and place it into the freezer as fast as you can.
Now you need more patience as you wait about 8 hours for the ice cream to harden to a firm consistency. It will be SO worth it, though!
Now that I’ve got a great vanilla base, I have lots of ideas for how to change up the flavor of the ice cream. It’s almost blackberry season, so I’m definitely going to be trying some blackberry ice cream soon. Oh, and caramel! You know how I love dulce de leche!
What are some of your favorite flavors? And if you’ve got recipes to share, we’d love to see them!