Ah – vanilla! When prepared in an authentic way (with no cheap substitutes), vanilla ice cream can be absolutely delicious already on its own. But vanilla also tend to go well with a myriade of other desserts, and just about everything you might want to put in your ice cream – No wonder that vanilla reigns unchallenged as the world’s most popular ice cream flavour!
From South America with love …
The history of vanilla is as fascinating as the flavour is delicate, and those interested should really check out this post, covering both the romantic fairy tale-like origins in South America, the Spanish role in vanilla’s later world-wide success and the present situation.
It has been said that every ice cream maker should have his or her own favourite vanilla ice cream recipe. That may be true, but I find it equally fun to try different ones: after all, it would be a shame to miss a really good one just because you have convinced yourself that you already have one you like 😉 .
Today’s recipe is adapted from one by talented ice cream chef Ben Vear, and is definitely worth checking out (as is his book!).
Basically, it is a custard-based ice cream, prepared with about equal parts milk and cream and a not too excessive amount of eggs. In other words, it falls somewhere inbetween the typical French and Italian classic custard recipes. In order to ensure an even fresher overall taste, I have added a little yoghurt towards the end – this works really well for all of us who like our ice cream flavours less “overwhelmingly creamy”.
In order to ensure a nice consistency, the recipe also contains a ‘structural’ ingredient which some purists may frown upon – skimmed milk powder. However, as you will see, the amount used is fairly small and the nice results clearly justifies it, IMHO. What the skimmed milk powder does, to put it plainly, is that it helps to absorb some of the liquid that otherwise could turn into nasty, large ice crystals – the sort of crystals rightly feared by all ice cream lovers (technically speaking, the powder adds to the proportion of the ice cream’s non-fat solids).
Looking to boost the vanilla flavour even further?
The original recipe called for the use of (genuine) vanilla extract, and this is also what I went with here. Using good quality vanilla extract works very well. However, feel free to use a real vanilla bean if you like – that works as well, and possibly even better [split the bean, then add both the bean and its seed content into the milk. Just don’t forget to remove the bean-parts before churing the ice cream, though].
Another way to boost the vanilla flavour is to use vanilla sugar instead of ordinary sugar (or at least let vanilla sugar form part of the total amount of the sugar).
This does not even need to cost you more than a little planning, as you will be able to get vanilla sugar by adding a vanilla bean to ordinary white sugar and churn it all in a food processor or its like. Store in a (closed) jar until it is time to use it. And while you may use a “fresh” vanilla bean + seeds for this, you may as well use the (dried) sheaths of a ‘used’ vanilla bean – they will still be sufficiently aromatic to do the trick!
First – prepare the custard base!
While many of you surely know the drill, I will go through the steps anyway.
Start by whisking the egg yolks with half of the (possibly, vanilla)sugar. Set aside for now.
Now, mix the cream and the milk together with the vanilla extract (or vanilla bean, if using) and the other half of the (vanilla)sugar.
Bring to a simmering almost-boil, continue to whisk every now and then for about about 4-5 minutes, also adding the skimmed milk powder. Make sure that it does not boil.
Now, slowly and little by little, begin to whisk in the hot milk-part into the egg yolk-sugar mixture. This can be a bit delicate, as you definitely want to avoid the egg yolks turning into scrambled eggs.
Just ensure that the milk is hot, but not boiling hot, and whisk all the time. If you do this, and avoid mixing everything in at the same time, you should be OK.
Conservative or modernist? – A quick reflexion on how best to prepare ice cream custard bases
Here, we have obviously been using the ‘Traditionalist approach’ to preparing custard bases. Iconoclasters and kitchen realists may well try the less time-consuming, more modern, method of simply adding all ingredients mentioned (eggs, sugar, milk, cream, vanilla) in a saucepan already from the start and begin the cooking from there. Just remember to only add the yoghurt once the base has cooled down!
In my experience, both methods work well but out of respect for Ben Vear, I stick with the traditional method in this post.
Once the whole base has been mixed together, it is time to bring the custard to the required cooking temperature (= sufficiently hot to pasteurise it, but not so hot that the egg begin to coagulate).
This can be done in several ways but you should be fine with just a good saucepan, a whisk and a thermometer. Since the so-called nappe stage (when the custard has both thickened and been sufficiently pasteurised) is dependent on the temperature, I strongly recommend the use of a thermometer.
When the custard has been brought up to about 82-84º Celsius (189-183 ºF), it should be ready. If you lack a thermometer, use well-known rules of thumb such as the so-called Spoon-test, or the Rose-test.
Once sufficiently cooked, cool down the ice cream base as fast as you can: letting it rest in a bowl floating in ice-cold water is one way. When sufficiently cool, add the yoghurt [if using] to the base and put it all into the refrigerator, preferably over the night.
It may be debatable how much ice cream custard bases really gain in flavour by “resting/maturing” before churing. But regardless of this, the final ice cream will clearly be better the colder the base is at the time of the churning. If only for this reason, letting the base spend a few hours in the refrigerator before churning remains a very good idea.
And as usual – if you have no ice cream machine, go ahead and still-freeze your ice cream using your freezer! Go here for some practical advise on that method.
In conclusion: A very nice vanilla!
Those who have tried genuine vanilla ice cream know that is can be a truly delicious flavour. And this recipe truly delivers! The distinct vanilla flavour is round and full, leaving nothing further to be desired. Also the overall consistency of the ice cream remains nice, despite the (relatively speaking) limited amount of milk fats and egg yolks – no doubt partly thanks to the skimmed milk powder.
Everyone needs a good vanilla ice cream recipe, and in my view, this one has the potential to be one of those trusty “go to” recipes: this is a very good vanilla base recipe! Whether you plan on enjoying the delicate vanilla flavour on its own or combine it with something else, your tastebuds will thank you!
- 250 ml (1 cup) cream
- 200 ml (0.85 cup) milk
- 50 ml (about ¼ cup) yoghurt (Turkish or Greek dense type, about 10 % fat)
- 125 gram sugar (all or part of it vanilla sugar)
- 1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
- 5 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons skimmed milk powder
- Pour milk, cream, the vanilla extract and ½ of the sugar in a saucepan. Whisking every now and then, bring to a simmering almost-boil for about 4-5 minutes, then set aside.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the other half of the sugar.
- Little by little and while whisking constantly, stir in the heated dairy mixture into the whisked egg yolks.
- Once combined, pour this base into a saucepan, put on heat and - while whisking - add the skimmed milk powder and carefully bring the base to the nappe-stage = 82-84º Celsius (189-183 ºF). Use of a thermometer is recommended!
- Take off from the heat and let cool down as quickly as possible. Then, whisk in the yoghurt.
- Put in the refrigerator to chill over the night.
- Then churn the ice cream base in your ice cream maker. If you do not have any, still-freeze it using your freezer.
- Once finished, enjoy fresh or store in a freezer-safe container: cover with plastic film and a lid.
For useful advise on how to still-freeze ice cream without an ice cream machine, go here: http://www.icecreamnation.org/freezer-only-make/