Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ice and Snow: Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

 Not so long ago, I made an optimistic batch of vanilla ice cream as the season of spring made a pleasant appearance. That appearance turned out to be a mere tease. A fleeting flirtation. Blatantly false pretenses. As I write this, the snow is falling in a calendar-challenged frenzy that’s threatening to crush any enthusiasm I may have had about the upcoming arrival of local spring vegetables.

I’d like to say that the Great Outdoors covered in fluffy but frigid white stuff evokes an image of an ice cream world. The truth is, I’m just not that happy about it. This post on ice cream represents pure defiance. Sweet and creamy defiance with the exotic floral-fruity scent of vanilla bean.

Yes, I did use a vanilla bean to make my ice cream. I’ve been hoarding the few vanilla beans I buy for use in special dishes that really benefit from their unique flavor and aroma. I figured that the first homemade ice cream of the season was good enough reason to pull one out of the cupboard.

I simply scraped the black, pasty seeds from inside the pod, and added them, along with the pod itself to the custard while I heated it. I removed the pod when I was ready to freeze the ice cream, then rinsed it, dried it, and stored it in a sealed container with sugar. I just keep adding used vanilla pods to this sugar and it develops subtle vanilla flavor over time. I can then use this sugar to make more ice cream or baked goods. I also quite like it in coffee.

You don’t, however, need to use a vanilla bean to make good vanilla ice cream. Its exotic aroma is quite a pleasure for the cook to enjoy while working with it, but vanilla extract will work very well here. (It’s what I usually use.) Since there are only a few simple ingredients in vanilla ice cream, the quality of the ingredients matters significantly, so use good-quality vanilla extract as well as good eggs, milk and cream.

In the end, it may not be warm and green and sunny, but no matter the weather, ice cream is just delicious. So take that, Return of Winter. You will not get me down! I’ll see your snow and raise you an ice cream cone! Let’s see you make that fall from the sky!

Vanilla Ice Cream
Adapted from Ben and Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book

2 eggs
¾ cup sugar or vanilla sugar
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy or whipping cream
1 vanilla bean or 2-3 teaspoons good-quality vanilla extract

1. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Continue beating until the mixture is pale and no longer grainy. Whisk in the milk.

2. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean open lengthwise. Scrape the seeds (they look like a black paste) from the pod. Whisk the seeds into the egg mixture.

3. Pour the mixture into a medium-size saucepan. Add the scraped vanilla pod. Heat over low to medium-low heat, stirring often, until the mixture reaches 160 F (about 72 C). (Use an instant-read or candy thermometer to determine this.)

4. Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl. Stir in the vanilla extract, if using. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or until completely chilled. (I often set it in the freezer to speed the process and get the mixture even colder than the refrigerator can.)

6. Remove the vanilla pods from the chilled custard. Pour the custard into the freezing canister of an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a freezer safe container and freeze until of desired firmness.

Makes about 1 quart (1 liter).

Other recipes like this one: Ginger Spice Ice Cream, Rich Chocolate Ice Cream

One year ago: Maple Cake with Walnuts and Dates

Two years ago: Italian Chickpeas

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