Ice Cream 101 – One Simple Custard Base, Several Flavors! (Roasted Banana and more…)

Last week I did a post on the tricks to creating Sorbet and it got me thinking about ice cream. I always tend to make a big batch and then mash other ingredients into it. This way I can tailor the flavor to the dessert I am serving it with or the mood I am in. You have to, start with a really great ice cream base, which for me means lusciously smooth, with a dense and silky texture. The flavor should be rich, but not too buttery (greasy) and I always start my “French custard” ice cream base with vanilla, there really isn’t a flavor that it doesn’t compliment.

When the first frozen dessert was created by the ancient Chinese, it was just a mixture of fruity syrups and snow, basically a sorbet. Not until the 18th century in England did you find the first ice cream made with milk, cream and eggs, no snow. Today homemade ice cream is still made this simple way. The secret to getting the perfect texture and flavor is not only the ingredients, but the technique of creating a custard and then freezing it.  You want to cook the cream, yolks, sugar and vanilla until the eggs thicken slightly, known as creme anglaise (English cream), and then chill the mixture overnight in the refrigerator, about 6 to 12 hours. This last step is a bit of a mystery, but it works to create the best mouth feel. I have heard the overnight chill described as “maturing,” “ripening,” or “aging.” You get the picture, it gets better with age.  I find when I do this extra step my ice cream is smooth and less ice crystals form. The way big manufacturers get past this step is to add gums, starches, or gelatin. I’d rather not, so I just wait.

Once you have the base, you can freeze it as vanilla ice cream or add other flavors. For this recipe I am adding roasted bananas, which I just used in a banana bread post  I wrote for the Cooking Channel. Roasting the fruit not only concentrates the sugars, but it also expels some of the water in the bananas, which can cause the ice cream to be icy. I don’t stop there, I also mash in toasted maple-pecans, brandied cherries and chocolate ganache into the roasted banana ice cream, for a total of 4 flavors.  What can I say, I like variety!

Vanilla Ice Cream Base:

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 large vanilla bean, scraped

1 cup sugar

10 yolks

For Roasted Banana Ice Cream:

4 ripe bananas (they should be at least yellow with a few spots, but even better when overripe.) – Place the bananas on a Silicone Baking Mat or foil covered Baking Sheet with sides, which will catch the juices. Poke small holes in the peels and bake at 350°F for about 40-60 minutes, depending on how ripe the bananas are.

*See below for ideas of ingredients to mash into the frozen ice cream.

To make the Vanilla Ice Cream Base:

Heat the heavy cream, milk, vanilla bean and sugar in a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat. The longer you let this mixture sit, the stronger the vanilla flavor will be. I often bring the mixture to a simmer, turn off the heat and let it steep for an hour or so. Before you continue with the recipe, you will need to bring it back to a simmer.

Whisk together the yolks in a medium sized bowl. Remove the cream mixture from the heat and whisk a small amount of the cream into the egg mixture. Add enough cream to warm the eggs.

Once the eggs are warm, add them back into the pot of remaining cream.

Use a rubber spatula to gently stir the custard over low heat. Continue stirring until the mixture starts to thicken.

When the custard seems to be getting thicker, lift the rubber spatula and run your finger through it. It is done when the custard clings to the spatula.

Strain the custard through a fine mesh Strainer or Chinois into a shallow dish. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and immediately place in the refrigerator.

Allow the custard to “ripen” for 6 to 12 hours for the best result. If you are in a rush, at least make sure the custard is thoroughly chilled. As you can see above that the custard will be quite thick once it has chilled.

If you want vanilla ice cream freeze this custard in an Ice Cream Maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

To make roasted banana ice cream:

Puree the roasted bananas in a food processor or using an immersion blender. It will make about 1 cup of puree.

Make sure the banana puree is chilled before adding it to the vanilla ice cream base.

Make sure the custard is smooth. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Freeze a bowl and have it ready for the freshly made ice cream. Immediately freeze the ice cream to harden.

*Once your banana ice cream is done you can have fun mashing other ingredients into it. In this bowl I have added toasted pecans and a drizzle of maple syrup. You can do this to the entire batch or just an individual bowl.

Spread the top of the banana ice cream with a thin layer of chocolate ganache.

As you scoop the ice cream out of the bowl the ganache will swirl into the ice cream….

and add a wonderful chocolate fudge flavor.

I also soaked 1/2 cup dried cherries in 1 tablespoons brandy during the time it took to freeze the ice cream.

Then I strained the excess liquid off of the cherries and mixed them into the ice cream.

*While I was in college at the University of Vermont, I worked at Ben & Jerry’s making the ice cream cakes. As a Vermonter I have a fondness for their ice cream and one of my favorite flavors is Chunky Monkey. If you mix all the nuts, chocolate and cherries together you can create a new version of this magnificent classic.


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