4.34 from 3 votes

Ice Cream 101

A sweet corn ice cream cone with caramel dripping off

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.

Strawberry Ice Cream scooped into bowls

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

Vanilla Ice Cream Base

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, there really isn't a flavor that it doesn't compliment.
4.34 from 3 votes
Course: ice cream

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 large vanilla bean scraped
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 10 yolks

Instructions

  • 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.
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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55 thoughts to “Ice Cream 101”

  1. I have saved this as an “absolute must make.” I love making ice cream – the KitchenAid mixer attachment makes excellent, creamy ice cream. Looks delicious!

  2. How would you adapt this if you were making Philly-style ice cream rather than custard-based ice cream? Can you just add the roast bananas, or would this wreak havoc with the texture?

    1. Hi Alla,

      Great question, I think it will work just as well, but you will certainly have a different texture. I’ll have to try it and let you know! 😉

      Thanks, Zoë

  3. Oh, Zoe, this is perfect. I am actually eating toasted strawberry banana bread right now, so this ice cream looks especially wonderful. I will definitely be trying this—I’ve always wanted to try making banana ice cream.

    1. Hi Kathy,

      Yes, I have Ben & Jerry’s to thank for lots of things! My husband gained 20 pounds while I was working there. 😉

      Zoë

  4. Wow, this looks amazing! I am seriously craving it right now! I am definitely posting a link to this on my Facebook page, Delicious Inspiration.

  5. I just got a new Cuisinart Ice Cream Mkaer and this just might be the flavor for my first try. Great post. Thanks

  6. Hi Zoë,

    Re: Banana Bread

    (Sorry for posting this comment here, but I wasn’t sure if you’d see it if it was posted to the Cooking Channel site!)

    One trick I picked up from a recent Cooks Illustrated recipe, is to sprinkle a little less than 1 tbs of granulated sugar over the top of the bread before baking. It forms a very delicate, crunchy crust. For such a tiny thing, the result is amazing.

    Another thing we do is to let the loaf cool completely on a rack to room temperature, about 2 hours, then seal it in a 1-gallon ziploc bag and refrigerate overnight before slicing. The resulting loaf is a bit denser, giving it a bit more of a cake texture.

    Anyway, just wanted to share that with you and your readers, and and to say my kids can’t wait for me to make this ice cream recipe! As always, your photography is completely amazing!

    1. Hi Marc,

      Thank you so much for the note. I love the idea of having the sugar crust on the banana bread! I also am intrigued by the trick of refrigerating it in a ziplock bag, what a cool idea!

      Enjoy the ice cream, Zoë

  7. Hi Zoe…thank you so much for that wonderful class yesterday! I just spent all morning working with my first batch of dough…and everything came out wonderfully…pita, baguette, pizza and boule! My question is…can I put a touch of sugar in the basic dough? Thanks again…can’t wait for your new book! Marcy

    1. Hi Marcy,

      How wonderful that you are already baking! I am so thrilled. You can certainly add a bit of sugar to the master recipe. You can add up to 1/4 cup without having to make any other changes, but that will make it pretty sweet. You may want to start with 2 tablespoons and see if you like that.

      Thanks for the lovely note! Zoë

  8. Hi! I am curious what tips you have for making lactose free ice cream. I can easily get lactose free whole milk at my local grocery store but they don’t appear to carry cream or half and half that is lactose free (if such things even exist!).
    Any ideas how I can make a great ice cream anyway?

    1. I know this is a rather late answer to your question, but I just read this. I am lactose free. There are two brands that make lactose free half and half now. And I live in a podunk town and am able to buy it. Also, I seem to be able to process whole cream as there is very little lactose in it. Perhaps there is someone else who might read this currently, and this will help them. Zoe, your recipes are divine, and I often convert them to gluten free as well. Thank you.

  9. Zoe,
    I just made the roasted banana ice cream with the ganache topping. . . Oh. Yum. At first, I thought the bananas looked a little odd, but I’m starting to feel like anything you suggest with food is probably a good idea, so went for it. So, glad I did. New favorite.

    I also “kind of” made the macarons you blogged for St. Pat’s day. . . had to use coconut instead due to an allergy to almonds, but they raised quite a stir at my mom’s group. Definitely a repeater, and a delightful way to use up the egg whites accidentally created from making ice cream!

    Thanks for doing all this!
    Jenny

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      So, so glad you went for it and tried the banana ice cream! I love it.

      What a great idea to make the macarons with coconut!

      Thank you! Zoë

  10. If you are even thinking about making this ice cream, DO IT. It is literally the best ice cream I’ve ever made (and maybe ever tasted). Roasting bananas must make the difference. DELICIOUS!

  11. Hi Zoe:

    I can’t wait to try this ice cream! Can you
    tell me how to increase a 1 qt. recipe to
    A 3 gallon recipe? Is there a certain ratio
    to follow?

    Thank you,
    Courtney

  12. OH. my. GOODNESS!!! This is totally made of ridiculous goodness! 🙂 I’ll be taking a stab at it this week.

    My favorite ice cream in the entire world is Haagen Dazs’s carmelized pear and toasted pecan.

    Any tips on how I could recreate that delicious flavor as well?

    1. Hi Christopher,

      That sounds great. You can poach the pears in a caramel sauce made with pear juice. Cook the juices down when the pears are done and add some of it to the ice cream base.

      Let me know how it goes! Zoë

  13. Made the ice cream base as is…WONDERFUL! Also made a ganache and had walnuts on hand. Everyone dressed their own ice cream. It was a huge hit! Even those that do not prefer bananas, well, let’s just say they were converted because of the Roasted Banana Ice Cream 🙂 Simply delicious!

  14. Hello Zoe
    My daughters birthday is the next week and she loves Ice Cream
    I want to make Chocolate Orange Ice Cream for her birthday , can I use the Vanilla Custard Base? Or if you have one recipes for this combination?

    Thank you for your Help.

    1. Hi Danny,

      Oh boy, it turns out I have never done a chocolate ice cream post. I will have to do that, but I’m not sure it will be in time for your daughter’s birthday. You need to start with a chocolate base.

      I’ll get on that right now! Zoë

  15. My biggest problem when making banana ice cream is the ice cream being too cold. the coldest coming from the bananas.

    1. Hi Oliver,

      You can temper the ice cream by setting it on the counter for 10 minutes or so before serving, this will give you a lovely texture.

      Thanks, Zoë

  16. Can I confirm with you the ripening process is in the fridge and not the freezer? It has been 12 hours and doesn’t quite look like the custard that you make for the vanilla ice cream base. I put it in the fridge and not the freezer.

  17. I love homemade ice cream but can’t find the recipe I’m looking 4 eggless no wait ice cream is it possible? Grandma made it every Sunday growing up so creamy so yummy and it was mixed n made, any suggestions? Thanks…Debbie

  18. I hve just tried your ice cream recipie. Will churn it in the ice cream maker after the custard’s ‘ripen’. I am from malaysia btw.

  19. Just made ice cream using your base recipe and my kitchen aid ice cream make – EXCELLENT! Best base I have tried yet – this is a keeper!

  20. Hello Zoe,
    thaks for the recipe which sound delicious.
    Im’ a big fan of mango ice cream and wonder if I can use this base to make it.
    Love your site……

  21. i made this ice cream today and i must say probably the BEST i have ever eaten. had never made custard or roasted bananas before so the recipe taught me a lot of new things. i have one question what is the purpose of passing custard through strainer?

  22. I’d really like to try this but can you tell me if it’s possible to use vanilla extract instead and how much? Also, is straining the mixture necessary?

    1. Hi Becca,

      Yes, you can use extract. I would start with 2 teaspoons and see if that is strong enough for your taste. I always strain just to make sure the ice cream base is as smooth as possible.

      Thanks, Zoë

  23. I must be stupid because I can’t find the recipe for the vanilla Base. I want to try some of these recipes but I need the base recipe

    1. Hi Sue–not at all! Thank you so much for commenting because you actually pointed out a technical issue we had that has now been fixed. You can now find the recipe in the post. Enjoy!

  24. I am in the process of making the roasted strawberry ice cream. Do I still let the vanilla base ‘ripen’ in the fridge 6-12 hours before adding the roasted strawberries in and then freezing?

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