When making homemade ice cream, you have to start with a really great 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. So start with my basic vanilla ice cream recipe below (and customize it with your favorite flavors), then try all the other amazing recipes.
If you’re more into sorbet, which is its own icy treat, check out my guide on how to make sorbet.
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 the result 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 or add other flavors, like roasted banana, toasted pecans, brandied cherries and chocolate ganache.
Vanilla Custard 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
- 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.