Everyone should have a great recipe for Vanilla Ice Cream in their repertoire. Here’s my favorite, which you can serve with anything, from a freshly-baked fruit pie, a warm berry crisp, or simply smothered with dark chocolate sauce or caramel sauce and toasted nuts.
It’s said that vanilla is the most popular flavor of ice cream. But most people don’t know that vanilla is also the most labor-intensive of all crops. Because of that, vanilla beans and pure extract are costly. Thankfully, a little vanilla goes a long way. I use both a bean and vanilla extract in my ice cream since I find they’re slightly different flavors and each compliments the other.
Harold McGee confirmed my suspicion by telling me that they’ve discovered that alcohol (which most vanilla extracts contain), even if cooked off, improves the way we sense the taste of things. Which he said confirmed what my taste buds were telling me.
The three most common types of vanilla are Bourbon, Tahitian, and Mexican. Bourbon vanilla, from Madagascar has a bold, very-pronounced flavor. Tahitian is more floral, and bit more elusive. And real Mexican is strong, yet creamy-tasting, perhaps my favorite of them all. Don’t use the cheap Mexican knock-offs, since most contain coumarin, which is toxic and banned for food use in the United States. True Mexican vanilla should be similarly-priced to other vanillas and is worth every cent.
The best way to tell if a bean is good or not is to take a sniff. Ditto with extract. Plumpness of beans doesn’t necessarily mean it has more flavor or essential oils, it may just have more water. And if you smell anything smoky, that means the bean was cured quickly over the fire, rather than dried properly, and not of good-quality.
Since vanilla beans are expensive, you want to get as much use out of them as possible. After use, rinse and dry your beans on a plate until they’re brittle, then burrow them in a container of sugar. Not only will they add their lovely scent to the sugar, but you can re-use the beans for anything, from adding to a pot of poaching fruit to jam-making. I also like to pulverize the dried beans with sugar in a food processor and use it in cake and cookie batters.
Vanilla Ice Cream
About 1 quart (1l)
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop (Ten Speed Press)
For a richer custard, you can add up to 3 more egg yolks. For a less-rich custard, substitute half-and-half for the heavy cream, realizing that the final texture won’t be as rich or as smooth as if using cream.
- 1 cup (250ml) whole milk
- A pinch of salt
- 3/4 cup (150g) sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Heat the milk, salt, and sugar in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk with a paring knife, then add the bean pod to the milk. Cover, remove from heat, and infuse for one hour.
2. To make the ice cream, set up an ice bath by placing a 2-quart (2l) bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water. Set a strainer over the top of the smaller bowl and pour the cream into the bowl.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together the egg yolks. Rewarm the milk then gradually pour some of the milk into the yolks, whisking constantly as you pour. Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.
4. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom with a heat-resistant spatula, until the custard thickens enough to coat the spatula.
5. Strain the custard into the heavy cream. Stir over the ice until cool, add the vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly. Preferably overnight.
6. Remove the vanilla bean and freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Note: Used vanilla beans can be rinsed and dried, then stored in a bin of sugar. That sugar can be used for baking and, of course, for future ice cream making.
Vanilla Extract and Beans (Vanillaqueen.com)
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