Vanilla Bean Frozen Custard

Frozen custard or ice cream? It’s both, but an ingredients list boasting 24 egg yolks might give us some insights into its heritage and how it can be used. From a technical standpoint, frozen custard must only contain 1.4% egg yolk and have at least 10% butterfat to be legally defined as such. Ice cream, while it has the butterfat percentage requirement identical to frozen custard, does not need to contain any egg yolk. Hence frozen custard is ice cream, but ice cream isn’t frozen custard. Frozen custard can be served softer than ice cream since it begins life as a thicker base. Further down the palatable ladder of frozen dairy comes ice milk, a charlatan of a dessert, trying to pass itself off as its higher brow cousins to an unsuspecting consumer. Many of us know this vile seducer from our youths as it was frequently packaged in a rectangular cardboard carton, contained multiple flavors in one box and was universally cut into slices to be served. Egads, how did we survive it all?

We survived because we have patience. And only a tiny bit of patience is needed to make this profoundly magical dessert from scratch. Do we need patience while the custard cooks? Patience while it churns? No. We need patience because the cooked custard needs to age at least overnight, or even better for two overnights before we churn it. The number of times we’ve heard people complain that they had to wait 6 hours for their churning bowl to freeze before they could churn their instant ice cream mix is truly staggering and it curdles our very souls. Is one rotation of the earth an impossibly long time? If you’re looking for irresistibly smooth and creamy frozen custard, it’s but a blink of an eye.

Homemade ice creams and frozen custards suffer from a few maladies, impatience being one of them. Another being carelessness. Many people claim they can easily tell the difference between homemade (inferior) ice cream from store bought (superior) varieties, and frequently this is the case. It’s not from a lack of “commercial-grade” equipment or a facility devoted to making just ice cream. It’s usually due to rushing through a recipe, cutting corners and then wondering why your finished product sucks. Remember, we have patience, and we’re detail oriented, and we’re also a prideful bunch. Having a friend ask where you bought your ice cream, while intrinsically insulting, is the highest praise you can receive.

So mind your p’s and q’s with this recipe. Don’t rush through any steps. Time is NOT of the essence here. Smooth, velvety, rich ice cream can easily be made in your home kitchen in under two days. The only necessary bit of extra kit you will need is an ice cream churn. And we recommend an extra churning bowl (or two or three).

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

(or Frozen Custard if you want to sound old-timey)

  • Makes about a gallon and a half of churned ice cream.
  • 10 cups heavy cream, 36% or higher butterfat content
  • 5 cups whole milk, no substitutes
  • pinch kosher salt
  • 3 cups white sugar, divided
  • 2 whole vanilla beans, split and the seeds scraped out (you’ll use all of it)
  • 24 extra large egg yolks

Equipment: one 6-quart or larger lidded wide-bottomed stockpot or sauteuse, non reactive, either glass, stainless steel or non-stick coated. A thermometer with an alarm. A balloon whisk. New wooden spoons or very clean silicone scrapers. A 6-quart lidded container, either glass or hard plastic. You will be aging your custard in this container so it cannot have any aromas from past foods. A large mesh sieve. An ice cream churn. A lot of ice, at least 20 pounds or enough to fill your sink. It is especially important that all your gear is impeccably clean, not because we’re neat freaks, but because the super high fat content of this custard will instantly absorb and greatly magnify any residual flavors and aromas from previous uses.

Let’s get started…

Place your clean churning bowls in the freezer.

Separate the yolks into a large mixing bowl. Reserve the egg whites for another use. We recommend knowing what you plan to do with them in advance so you can separate them into their various amounts. The cake mixes each take 4 egg whites, so you would have 6 small containers of 4 egg whites each as an example. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape the seeds out; bean pods and seeds go in the pot along with all the cream, all the milk, 2 cups of the sugar and the salt. Heat this over medium low heat, stirring frequently until it reaches 175 °F. Do not scald. This should take about 20 minutes. Once it reaches temperature, turn the heat off, cover the mixture and allow it to steep for 15 minutes while you whisk the egg yolks and the remaining 1 cup of sugar. Whisk this until the egg yolk mixture is lemony yellow and the sugar dissolves.

Temper the egg yolks by adding about 4 cups of the hot cream mixture to them while whisking continuously. Return everything to the pan and turn the heat back to medium. Set your thermometer to 200 °F to alert you when the temperature climbs too high. We need to cook and stir the custard until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon or the silicone scraper, but we don’t want it to boil. This should take between 20-25 minutes. Stir continuously or the egg will cook into lumps. Turn the heat off. Place your large plastic or glass container in your sink with the mesh strainer resting on the lip. You need to strain the custard to remove the vanilla bean skins and any lumps of egg that have formed. Do NOT omit this step. Do not press anything though the strainer. Once you have strained the custard, fill the sink with ice to cool the custard stirring frequently for about 15 minutes until it’s completely cooled being careful not to get any water or ice in the custard. Place the lid on the container and refrigerate the custard at least overnight.

Churning day!

Churn your ice cream according to the manufacturer’s directions making sure not to overfill the churning bowl. The ice cream will be soft serve at this point. For firm ice cream, transfer the soft serve to a clean glass or hard plastic container and freeze until it reaches the desired consistency. You will need to refreeze your churning bowls between uses. This usually takes at least 6 hours.

Coffee-Flavored Ice Cream

(for ~one quart of ice cream base)

Dissolve 3 tablespoons of instant espresso in ½ cup of hot half and half or light cream. Allow this mixture to cool before adding it to the custard base in the churning bowl.

Mint Ice Cream

(for ~one quart of ice cream base)

Add one or two drops of peppermint oil to the churning bowl along with the ice cream base. This is not extract. It is very strong so use sparingly.