What could possibly taste better on a hot summer’s day than a fresh batch of velvety rich homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream? (Well, maybe an ice cold Frozen Margarita, but that’s a topic for another day!). Topped with the spring’s freshest strawberries, this ice cream is my idea of the perfect dessert. Simple and elegant, the best part about ice cream is that you can make it ahead of time. With spring’s early arrival in many parts of the country and summer just around the corner, I have a few tips for making the perfect custard-based ice cream.
I have made countless batches of ice cream over the years, some with better success than others. Most of them have had a custard base and are rich with egg yolks and half and half and heavy cream. There are two basic methods for making a custard. One combines the egg yolks with the sugar and then you temper in the hot liquids (usually milk or half and half) prior to cooking the custard on the stove . The other method is to combine the sugar with the milk or half and half and warm them together and then temper that mixture in to the egg yolks prior to cooking the custard. The latter method seems to work better for me.
If you are not familiar with the term tempering, it is the process of gradually combining hot and cold ingredients together, in this case, the egg yolks and hot liquid. You want to do this slowly and stir constantly so that you do not cook the egg yolks.
The method of warming the sugar with the milk or half and half seems to produce a smoother custard. This prevents having to strain the custard through a sieve before combing with the heavy cream and other ingredients you are adding for flavor prior to chilling. This is especially important when you make a Vanilla Bean Ice Cream or another ice cream that has infused ingredients that need to remain in the custard. If you have to strain the custard, you will lose those key ingredients.
The key to a luscious and creamy ice cream is to have the perfect consistency in your custard.
Here are a few tips for ensuring that your custard is smooth:
1. Have your egg yolks at room temperature. The closer the two ingredients are to the same temperature, the less likely you are to end up with a curdled custard.
2. When you return the tempered mixture to the heat, keep the heat on low and whisk constantly.
3. The custard can quickly begin to curdle if it reaches temperatures over 170 degrees. Check the temperature with a thermometer. It only takes a couple of minutes to reach the temperature and proper consistency. The mixture will have thickened only slightly. The custard is done at 170 degrees. Alternatively, place a spoon in the mixture. When the custard coats the back of the spoon, it is done. Remove it immediately from the heat.
4. Cool the custard slightly (about 10 minutes) before adding the heavy cream and other ingredients.
5. The ice cream will freeze better the colder the mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight to ensure the mixture is very cold. Alternatively, place the bowl in an ice bath and refrigerate for several hours.
6. Be sure your ice cream freezer insert has been in the freezer at least 24 hours before using.
7. Place plastic wrap directly on top of the ice cream to avoid the formation of ice crystals once you have transferred the mixture to a freezer-safe container prior to serving.
Once you taste perfectly made custard-based homemade ice cream, you will never settle for anything less!