Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Earlier this week I teased you by mentioning I’d made the best vanilla ice cream ever. I stand by that claim, and just in time for the weekend, I’m excited to tell you about it today. When it comes to homemade ice cream, vanilla doesn’t get much love around here.  There’s always something seemingly more exciting to be made: chocolate! peanut butter! mint! strawberry!  At the end of the day, though, I often find myself opening the freezer wishing we had vanilla; whether you’re topping a brownie, a piece of apple pie or making ice cream sandwiches, it goes with just about everything.  It was the first thing I wanted to make after the great freezer clean-out of 2011, and I’m so glad I remembered this recipe my friend Nancy had posted just a few days before.

Without a doubt, this is the smoothest, most creamy vanilla ice cream I’ve ever made and it’s now my go-to when I want a custard-based vanilla.  It freezes perfectly – not so hard you can’t scoop it straight from the freezer, and not so soft it melts within 2 minutes of putting it in your bowl.  It’s packed with vanilla flavor too, with three different sources contributing (vanilla bean, vanilla sugar and vanilla bean paste – more on those below).  Shane and I were so bummed to scoop the last of it out for dessert the other night, but luckily another batch is just 6 egg yolks and a few cups of cream away :)  Yep, this is a very rich ice cream, but a small scoop will satisfy you, I promise!

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

The last time I posted ice cream, a few people commented about not having an ice cream maker and in the comments, I offered a suggestion to help them out. I thought I’d share it again in this post today for anyone who may have missed it. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can still enjoy homemade ice cream using this method shared by David Lebovitz. To sum it up quickly, all you do is make the custard as described in the recipe below, then transfer it to your freezer and stir it vigorously every so often as it freezes to break up ice crystals so you wind up with a smooth, creamy result. He notes that the technique works best with rich ice creams, so this vanilla bean ice cream would be a great candidate!

A couple of quick notes:

  • I used vanilla sugar for half of the sugar in the recipe.  If you don’t have any, you can definitely substitute granulated sugar.  Alternatively, if you want to make vanilla sugar, it couldn’t be easier.  Just save your used vanilla bean pods, dry them, then toss them in with granulated sugar.  You can use fresh vanilla beans too, but given how expensive they are, I prefer to reuse mine.
  • I also used vanilla bean paste in my ice cream, but vanilla extract would work just as well if you don’t have any.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere (via The Dogs Eat the Crumbs)

1 vanilla bean
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup vanilla sugar
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%)
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks 
3/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Run a paring knife down the center of the vanilla bean to split it, then use the back of the knife to scrape out the seeds.   Add them to a medium saucepan along with the granulated sugar and vanilla sugar, rubbing the seeds into the sugars until fragrant.  Add the vanilla pod, milk, heavy cream and salt to the pan.  Heat the mixture over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk and cream are warm (but not boiling) and the sugar has dissolved.

In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks together.  Slowly pour the milk/cream mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly, until completely incorporated. Transfer the mixture back to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon (it will register between 170 and 175 F on an instant read thermometer).

Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl.  Chill until very cold, at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.  Stir the vanilla bean paste into the custard then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Store the ice cream in an airtight container in your freezer.