Once you have an ice cream freezer, your relationship with ice cream changes. First, you realize that most ice cream — even ice cream purported to be the best in town — isn’t that good. The simple, basic ice creams you churn yourself are so much better. Of course, you have an advantage — you don’t need to skimp on ingredients. Then you begin to make the standard recipes even better, as in today’s post.
So, how can you make vanilla ice cream better? Once you’re using a lot of heavy cream and numerous egg yolks, you can’t really improve on the creaminess factor, so, instead, you need to focus on the flavor. And with vanilla, that means more vanilla flavor. We did that by making triple vanilla flavor. Not by adding three times the vanilla, but by adding vanilla in three different ways. Just watch.
Okay, so you decided to make some ice cream. Now, we can tell you that, as nearly professional ice cream taste-testers, it’s all about quality. So, we used a good heavy cream and half-and-half — normally we use organic — and really good 100% vanilla that we made ourselves. The egg yolks, as always, come from hens that are allowed to peck and scratch and eat grass and bugs. It makes the yolks a bright yellow-orange and they taste delicious, helping to make our ice cream better than any commercial ice cream. Period.
Procedure in detail:
Make vanilla sugar. Vanilla sugar is simple, but, like all good things, it takes time. Several days (or even a week) before making ice cream, measure out the amount of sugar you’ll need into a container with a lid. Poke a couple of vanilla beans into the sugar. These beans can be used again, or you can use beans that you’ve already scraped and used before. Cover and let stand for several days, preferably a week, so that delicious vanilla flavor seeps into the sugar. When ready, remove the vanilla beans and save them for next time or use below. This is the single vanilla.
Steep half-and-half. Slice a vanilla bean in half length-wise and scrape out the small seeds into a large (at least 3-quart) saucepan. Scrape out as much as you can, but not so much that you start scraping off pieces of the pod. Place the vanilla bean pod in the saucepan, too. Cover with the half-and-half, and place over medium heat. Heat, stirring until steamy and barely simmering, or 180°F. Remove from heat, then remove vanilla pods (these can and should be rinsed and saved to make more vanilla sugar later). This is double vanilla.
Temper yolks. We’ve come to the hardest part, so let’s start with something easy. First, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks in a large bowl until thick. Now for the moment of truth. You need to get the hot liquid into the yolks, without their cooking. Start whisking like crazy while you add a few tablespoons of the hot half-and-half. Then add a bit more of the hot liquid, then even more. Finally, you’ll be able to pour the rest into the yolks, making the custard base. Now rest that arm. We never get a photo of this stage because too much is going on, and we’re not about to risk our ice cream for a photo.
Cook custard. Return the custard base to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook, whisking continuously, until the custard thickens and is steamy. Do not let it boil. If you have one, use a thermometer to heat the custard to 175°F. Remove from heat.
Add cream and vanilla. Pour the custard into a large bowl, followed by the heavy cream and vanilla extract. Whisk everything in, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 8 hours, preferably overnight. Yep, we now have achieved triple vanilla.
Churn. Set up your ice cream freezer and churn the custard according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Pack and freeze. Most likely your ice cream will be like soft-serve right after churning. If you wish, you can serve some up right away, or you can pack it (or some of it) into an airtight container and freeze until firm.
Of course home-scratched ice cream gets five stars! And this is the most vanilla-tasting ice cream we’ve had. We were a bit worried that it might have so much vanilla that it would have a slightly bitter taste. Nope. Just perfectly vanilla-y flavor in a creamy, cold ice cream. If you don’t have an ice cream freezer, but like ice cream, you should really consider buying one (it took us years to decide — years without the best ice cream we’ve ever had) and if it broke tomorrow, we think we’d be first in line for another.