In search of the perfect vanilla ice cream

I’m aware this is my second food post in as many days. And I want to stress this isn’t a food blog, but just random things I use and consume that come into my head.

Vanilla ice cream is the most basic of flavours, and because of this, it gets overlooked. I’ve made many vanilla ice creams and they have varied from too vanilla-y to what tastes like little more than flor di latte (which means flower of the milk and is the plainest ice cream flavour you can get).

Heston Blumenthal has a recipe for vanilla ice cream that involves coffee beans, and sounds interesting, but I haven’t made it yet because it involves six vanilla pods. Heston’s recipes are amazing, but they don’t work out cheap (he has a current recipe in Waitrose for Banana Eton Mess which works out at £18 for the ingredients, Heston love, don’t you know there’s a recession on??).

My beloved Panasonic ice cream machine came with a humble little paper recipe pamphlet that, nevertheless, has proved to have some of the best ice cream recipes on it (I still think its chocolate ice cream recipe is unsurpassable).

This is what it suggests for vanilla ice cream:

120ml double cream
2 large egg yolks
50g granulated sugar
80ml milk (I always use semi-skimmed, to no obvious detriment)
1-2 tsp vanilla extract

You beat the egg yolks and sugar together, until pale and fluffy. If you don’t want to do a big work out (and really, you should, it’s the little jobs like this that our grandmothers did that all added up to keeping them fit, that and washing clothes by hand and turning mattresses etc). Add the milk and mix together well. Place this mixture in a saucepan and stir over a low heat. Don’t boil (but if it starts to boil a bit don’t panic, just turn it down and mop your brow and pay more attention next time). When its thickened to form a custard (which I find needs quite a vigorous heat), remove it from the heat and let it cool. Make yourself a cup of tea or something.

In a separate bowl, whisk the cream up, then add the vanilla extract to the custard mixture, then the whipped cream. Chill then churn in the machine.

Now a few notes about this recipe. You’ll see it tells you to whip the cream and then add it. I’ve done it without whipping it and the result has been the same. But try it the proper way first (I find the whipped cream flattens anyway when you mix it into the custard mixture). You’ll also see later that, although similar ingredients are used in other recipes, the way they’re put together varies. I guess it goes to show it all amounts to the same thing.

I found 2tsp of vanilla extract waaaaaaaaaaay too vanilla-y for this amount of ice cream (which doesn’t give you much, but just scale it up for more), so you may need to experiment.

This recipe above was my standard vanilla ice cream recipe for ages.

Then I started getting lots of books about ice cream. One which is pretty good is called Ice Cream. In it there is a recipe for vanilla ice cream which uses:

300ml full cream milk (again, I say, I always use semi skimmed milk and it’s just fine)
1 vanilla pod
4 large egg yolks
100g vanilla sugar
300ml double cream

What you do with it all is put the milk and the vanilla pod, which you’ve split in half length ways, in a pan and heat gently then remove it from the heat and let the pod infuse for 15 mins. With this one, in a separate heat proof bowl, you beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale.

Remove the pod from the milk, scraping out all the seeds and slowly beat the milk into the egg mixture.

Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, stir mixture until it coats the back of a wooden spoon (which it pretty much does straight away but you can carry on stirring as it’s fairly calming and you can day dream, the mixture won’t come to much harm as it’s in a bain marie).

Remove bowl, cover surface with cling film or grease proof paper (I am so lazy, I have pre-cut baking parchment circles for cake making and I use one of those) and let it cool, then chill for an hour or so. Then stir in the double cream and sling the whole lot into the ice cream maker.

All good. Ish. The ice cream is perfectly fine, but nothing special. A few notes about the ingredients. Vanilla pods annoy me. They’re expensive, sometimes, even if correctly stored, they go brittle and don’t work with you. I manage to leave behind half the seeds and all in all, I think are a pretty imprecise way of using vanilla. Do not buy vanilla sugar! It might as well be labelled “food stuff for stupid people with too much money”, just get a container, put some caster sugar in it, and lob a vanilla pod in it.  Keep it like that forever and ever. When you take some sugar out to use it for a recipe, put a bit more caster sugar in. Vanilla pods are great at this, they infuse the sugar with their bossy vanilla-y-ness. When you remember, replace the pod with a fresh one. If you’re reading this recipe and thinking “but I want to make vanilla ice cream NOW and I don’t have time to infuse my sugar with a vanilla pod”, then I applaud your enthusiasm but say: just use regular caster sugar this time. I swear you won’t notice much difference, which just goes to show what a terrific waste of money shop-bought vanilla sugar is.

So I decided to slightly adapt the above recipe. And when I say slightly, I really do mean slightly.

I bought some vanilla paste.  The one I used is by Taylor and Colledge and I buy it from Waitrose. It’s not a cheap alternative, at about a fiver for a small pot but I reckon you get more value from it as you can  use the whole product, none of that scraping etc, see above.

Now, my Ice cream books says that one tablespoon of vanilla paste equals one vanilla pod. The Taylor and Colledge website says one teaspoon. I used one tablespoon, which did seem like a lot. But for just over a pint of ice cream, it resulted in a very, very good vanilla ice cream. It was speckled, pale yellow, very vanilla-y tasting without making you want to grab the table for support; overall, almost buttery. In the way that people use buttery to describe something delicious, I don’t mean it tasted buttery literally as that wouldn’t really be that great. You experiment with how much vanilla paste to put in according to taste.

Try it and let me know what you think and also, what’s your favourite vanilla ice cream recipe?

2 thoughts on “In search of the perfect vanilla ice cream

  1. Pingback: Strawberry ice cream | Pane Amore e Cha Cha Cha

  2. Pingback: Rosemary, polenta and olive oil biscuits | Pane Amore e Cha Cha Cha

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