Tasty Thursday: Vanilla Ice Cream Base

I’m in week three of my Summer of Homemade Ice Cream, and I figured it’s time I share my go-to basic Vanilla Ice Cream base recipe.  Once you master its techniques, you can pretty much make any flavor ice cream you desire.  Of course, there are numerous recipes out there for other-than-vanilla-flavored ice cream, but feel free to use this custard as the starting point for endless combinations of mix-ins and flavorings.  Essentially, this recipe is a Crème Anglaise, a vanilla custard sauce that, unchurned and unfrozen, is used to garnish dessert plates of pies and cakes.  It’s a Pastry School 101 skill, and one that will serve you well if you’d like to make other custard-based recipes.  Here, I show you how to master this technique.

If you remember, in week one of the Summer of Homemade Ice Cream, I mentioned I used berries from our yard to make Raspberry Chocolate Chip ice cream (and, this week, I’m making Brown Sugar Roasted Pineapple!).

First, I cooked down the berries with some sugar and fresh lemon zest, creating a thick sauce.  I let this cool in the refrigerator while I made the custard.

To make the custard, heat heavy cream in a saucepot until scalded.  Do not boil—you don’t want to get the cream too hot, and you don’t want it to burn.  I heat the cream until I see tiny bubble forming around the edge of the pot, but no rolling bubbles breaking the surface.  If you are using a vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds with the back of a paring knife and throw the seeds and the entire pod in with the cream to scald.  By heating the vanilla bean in this step, you’ll add even more vanilla flavor to the cream.

While the cream is heating through, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together to make what is called a “ribbon.”  Basically, the yolk-sugar mixture should be smooth, not chunky, and fall from the whisk and puddle into what looks like ribbons in the bowl.  This way you’ll know the yolks and sugar are properly combined.

Once the cream is heated, discard the vanilla bean pod and slowly add the cream to the egg mixture, whisking while you do.  This process is called “tempering,” and the important thing to remember is to do this slowly.  Dumping hot cream into raw yolks will scramble your eggs, and no one wants curdled ice cream.  It can kind of be a pain, as you alternate between pouring and whisking, but a smooth mixture will be well worth the effort.  Return this mixture to the stove (I do this double-boiler-style), and heat the mixture to no higher than 185 degrees or, as we call it in the pastry kitchen, “nappe.”  At this temperature, the mixture will thicken and coat the back of a spoon.  You must stir the custard constantly, however, or you may once again be in danger of scrambling your eggs.  Once the custard reaches nappe, strain through a mesh strainer into a shallow pan (the mixture will cool faster the shallower it is, and faster is always better when it comes to eggs and dairy!), add vanilla extract and refrigerate.  You now have a crème anglaise, or the base for your ice cream.  Churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.  Add mix-ins like raspberry sauce and chocolate chips during the last few minutes of churning.

Vanilla Ice Cream Custard

(adapted from “The Professional Pastry Chef” (Friberg)

1 quart heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

2 tsp. vanilla extract

10 egg yolks

10 oz. granulated sugar.

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