Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Vanilla Ice Cream

After months of testing in my secret underground laboratory I've finally cracked the secret to the perfect vanilla ice cream. Now what you're going to need is 2 5 liter graduated cylinders, a street urchin apprentice that you keep in the basement and feed scraps, and the leaves of the rare Silverthorn plant, picked at the peak of ripeness under a full moon. A sweet beard, and performing a complex interpretive dance also helps, but is not strictly necessary.

Artist's interpretation of me making ice cream.

Now, as an alternative you can just follow the recipe for Vanilla Bean Ice Cream in the instruction book that comes with your Cuisinart ice cream maker.
Necessary ingredients:
1 1/2 Cups Whole Milk (or 2%)
1 1/2 Cups Heavy Cream
1 Whole Vanilla Bean
2 Large Eggs
3 Large Egg Yolks
3/4 Cups sugar

Figure 1.
For those of you who's lives do not revolve around cooking, these are vanilla beans. They're the 2nd most expensive spice in the world (after saffron), and are what stuff like vanilla extract comes from. You can actually get them pretty cheaply from Kitchen Window. They are key in this recipe, accept no substitutes. To properly use a vanilla bean, split it down the center and then scrape out the vanilla seeds on each half of the bean with a knife. The seeds are what will give the ice cream the deep, rich flavor that you can't get with any other ingredient. I tried to take pictures of this step, but the seeds are too small, and my kitchen is too dark for my camera.. look it up!
Vanilla pod not shown.. but it's in there.

Your first step is to scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream, and then drop the 2 halves of the bean into the cream. Steep the vanilla bean in the cream and milk at medium heat in a medium saucepan for about 30 minutes, never bringing it past a light simmer. Watch this carefully, stirring often and scraping the sides of the pan with a spatula. At the end of the 30 minutes, remove the 2 halves of the bean, leaving only the heavily vanilla flavored cream.

A note on the cream: The half cream, half whole milk is entirely variable. Obviously the more cream you use, the richer the ice cream will be. I've tend to use whatever I have on hand, and usually end up using a mix of heavy cream and skim milk. I've also used entirely half and half. This is a good way to cut fat, but beware, the less fat in the milk/cream mixture the harder it will freeze. An ice cream made out of nothing but skim milk would be a white colored brick of ice once re-hardened.. not too appetizing. Experimentation is the key here.

In the meantime, mix your 3 yolks, and 2 full eggs in with 3/4 of a cup of sugar until it is smooth and creamy.. a couple of minutes. I realize my picture doesn't show enough eggs, because I originally misread the recipe, and only added 3 eggs total.. it still turned out great. The amount of eggs can actually be changed around quite a bit, from all yolks, all the way down to no egg at all (but that's another recipe). After some experimentation I've settled on using 3-5 egg yolks only, the whites of the eggs tend to froth up into a foam that doesn't incorporate easily back into the ice cream, so I cut them altogether.

Now comes the tricky part. Well it's not all that tricky, but this is the step that makes or breaks the ice cream (literally). What you've got to do now is combine your hot cream mixture, with your egg and sugar mixture. The trick here is.. if you pour very hot cream over egg yolks, you know what you're going to get.... and let me tell you right now you do NOT want little chunks of scrambled egg floating in your ice cream. That would be your literal "breaking" of your custard (which is what this really is), when the egg curdles, and then separates from the cram.. leaving egg floating in your cream.

So the only way to combine these two liquids, without that happening is combining them slowly, and with a lot of stirring. Slowly pour 1 1/2 cups of your cream mixture into the bowl with your egg mixture, whisking all the while (I use my electric mixer, much easier).. If you think it's getting too hot too fast, slow down and mix for a while. Once the egg mixture is brought up to a reasonable heat, transfer the entire mixture back to the sauce pot with the remaining cream.. again, not too quickly, and with lots of stirring.

The next step can be equally treacherous, you've got to bring the whole mixture back up to heat so the custard can thicken, but not so hot as the egg with curdle. Turn on the heat, medium low, and stir as it reheats. An instant digital thermometer is a GREAT help here (like $10.. you should have one). The minimum you're looking for is about 150 degrees, because you need to make sure you kill any nasty stuff that is in those raw egg yolks. Around 170-180 degrees you should notice a pretty significant thickening in the custard. This is cooking alchemy at work, ad though there is probably an ideal temperature to bring your custard up to, the old custard moniker "until it coats the back of a spoon" is usually good enough. Absolutely do NOT bring it up past 185 unless you want scrambled eggs in your ice cream... Watch this very closely, and always error on the cool side, as opposed to the hot side (as long as you're above 150).
If any food-types feel like flipping through a Harold McGee book to find out the actual temperatures for thickening custard I would be appreciative.

TLDR VERSION: Don't bring this to a boil unless you like egg ice cream.

Cool your Mixture until it's just above freezing, a bowl in the fridge / freezer with plastic wrap directly on top of the custard (touching it) is the best method.. this will make the churning process easier.
Transfer Ice cream to ice cream maker, turn on, and stare transfixed into your machine for the next 25-30 minutes as ice cream is created in front of your very eyes!

This stuff doesn't even need a topping it's so good. Mind blowingly, crazy flavor explosion good. Seriously.

Don't let this recipe scare you, despite this post's epic length, and abundant warnings this is actually a very easy recipe. Easy enough that I think I'll bring back my old defunct ratings system.

Difficulty 6/10 - Potential problems with the eggs curdling, other than that.. easy.

Taste aka deliciousness - 10 / 10 As good as a banger in the mouth, or here in the colonies, a sausage in the mouth.


Matt said...

I can vouch for the awesomeness of this concoction. I would be happy to taste test your chocolate recipe as well.

Anne said...

That sounds amazing! Yum! We will definitely have to try our ice cream maker out now!