Knowing how to make a basic vanilla ice cream will serve you well in life. This is what makes a slice of birthday cake, a wedge of Thanksgiving pie, or even a simple banana split on a hot summer night feel extra special and memorable. Plus, once you master this recipe, you are well on your way to inventing your own flavours and making the ice cream of your dreams.
Vanilla ice cream with an egg custard base is not particularly hard, but it can feel that way the first time you make it. Here is a straightforward guide through all the tricky steps so you know exactly what to do and what to expect along the way.
The most basic item you require is egg yolks. They help thicken the milky ice cream base and give the finished ice cream a richer and creamier taste. The more egg yolks you use, the richer and creamier your ice cream will be.
When heating the eggs along with the milk and sugar to make the base, it is easy for your attention to wander, resulting in little curdles of cooked egg in your ice cream. There are however a few built-in safeties to prevent this from happening. For starters, you could whisk just a small scoop of the hot milk into the eggs and sugar. This warms the eggs just a bit, making them less likely to curdle when you stir them into the pot with the rest of the milk and then start cooking over direct heat. Or you could heat the base slow and low. Despite this, if your eggs did start to curdle a little, strain the base before churning the ice cream. Any accidental bits of curdled egg will get caught in the strainer and not in your ice cream.
Churning and freezing:
Churning begins the freezing process, breaking up ice crystals as they form and incorporating some air into the thickening ice cream. If you freeze the ice cream without churning, it will turn into a solid, icy brick. Also, the bowl of your ice cream maker needs to be frozen before churning, if it is not cold then be sure to stash it in the freezer at least 24 hours before you plan to make your ice cream.
Once you have this basic method down, it is easy to branch out into other flavours. The best place to start is by infusing the milk with things like fresh herbs (mint), spices (cinnamon), coffee beans, and cacao nibs. Add any of these along with the vanilla, and by the time you strain the base before churning, the ice cream will be infused with their flavour.
You can also add mix-ins — like chocolate chips, chopped fruit, or toffee bits — in the last few minutes of churning, or layer them into the ice cream when you transfer it to the freezer container.
Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and some water. Place another, smaller bowl on top of the water, and place a strainer inside. Keep this close by while you make the ice cream base. Once done, whisk together four large egg yolks and 2/3 cup sugar until pale lemon-yellow coloured. Warm 1 1/2 cups whole milk on the stovetop and add 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Bring the milk to a simmer, then remove from heat. Scoop out about 1 cup of hot milk and slowly pour it into the egg-sugar mixture while whisking.
Then slowly pour the tempered egg-sugar mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Return the saucepan to the stove and place over low heat. Stir the mixture slowly, but constantly, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Keep cooking until the base has thickened enough to coat the back of the spatula and registers 76 degree Celsius with an instant-read thermometer.
Strain the ice cream base into the bowl of the ice water bath and then stir in 1 ½ cups heavy cream. Leave the ice cream base over the ice water bath for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is completely chilled. Alternatively, cover the bowl with the base and chill in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight.
Transfer the ice cream base to the bowl of your ice cream machine. Churn for about 20 minutes, until the base has thickened to a consistency somewhere between a very thick milkshake and soft-serve ice cream.
Transfer the thickened ice cream to a freezer container. Press a piece of wax paper against the surface of the ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming and freeze for at least 4 hours before serving.