Vanilla Ice Cream

Published July 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.

Why this recipe works:

The quicker it freezes, the smoother the ice cream, so we sped up the freezing time of our homemade Vanilla Ice Cream recipe by starting with a colder base. Supplementing the sugar with corn syrup gave us a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe that produced ice cream that froze faster, remained hard at… read more

The quicker it freezes, the smoother the ice cream, so we sped up the freezing time of our homemade Vanilla Ice Cream recipe by starting with a colder base. Supplementing the sugar with corn syrup gave us a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe that produced ice cream that froze faster, remained hard at home-freezer temperatures, and was devoid of large ice crystals.

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Makes about 1 Quart

Two teaspoons of vanilla extract can be substituted for the vanilla bean; stir the extract into the cold custard in step 3. An instant-read thermometer is critical for the best results. Using a prechilled metal baking pan and working quickly in step 4 will help prevent melting and refreezing of the ice cream and will speed the hardening process. If using a canister-style ice-cream machine, be sure to freeze the empty canister at least 24 hours and preferably 48 hours before churning. For self-refrigerating ice-cream machines, prechill the canister by running the machine for 5 to 10 minutes before pouring in the custard.

Ingredients

  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 large egg yolks

Instructions

  1. 1. Place 8- or 9-inch-square metal baking pan in freezer. Cut vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Using tip of paring knife, scrape out vanilla seeds. Combine vanilla bean, seeds, cream, milk, 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, corn syrup, and salt in medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is steaming steadily and registers 175 degrees, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat.

    2. While cream mixture heats, whisk yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in bowl until smooth, about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk 1 cup heated cream mixture into egg yolk mixture. Return mixture to saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and registers 180 degrees, 7 to 14 minutes. Immediately pour custard into large bowl and let cool until no longer steaming, 10 to 20 minutes. Transfer 1 cup custard to small bowl. Cover both bowls with plastic wrap. Place large bowl in refrigerator and small bowl in freezer and cool completely, at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours. (Small bowl of custard will freeze solid.)

    3. Remove custards from refrigerator and freezer. Scrape frozen custard from small bowl into large bowl of custard. Stir occasionally until frozen custard has fully dissolved. Strain custard through fine-mesh strainer and transfer to ice-cream machine. Churn until mixture resembles thick soft-serve ice cream and registers about 21 degrees, 15 to 25 minutes. Transfer ice cream to frozen baking pan and press plastic wrap on surface. Return to freezer until firm around edges, about 1 hour.

    4. Transfer ice cream to airtight container, pressing firmly to remove any air pockets, and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours. Serve. (Ice cream can be stored for up to 5 days.)

Recipe Testing

Getting to Yes

Creating smooth ice cream means cutting back on ice crystals, or preventing them from forming in the first place. We tried a slew of ingredients promising to do just that, most with unfortunate side effects.

NO
Condensed and evaporated milk contribute less water to the mix, leading to fewer ice crystals. But ice cream made from each tasted “cooked.”

No
Cornstarch traps water so it can't form ice crystals, but it produced a "weird", "gummy" texture. Gelatin and pectin bombed, too.

No
Nonfat dry milk ups the overall milk solids in the custard base, thus blocking ice crystal formation, but it left a "cheesy" flavor.

Yes
Some granulated sugar plus corn syrup, which also interferes with crystal formation, made for a super-smooth texture- with no funky side effects.

Step-by-Step

Combating Iciness with Corn Syrup

One key to our ice cream's smoothness was to replace some of the sugar with corn syrup. This sweetener has a twofold effect: First, it is made up of glucose molecules and large tangled chains of starch that interupt the flow of water molecules in a custard base. Since the water molecules can't move freely, they are less likely to combine and form large crystals as the ice cream freezes. Second, corn syrup creates a higher freezing point in ice cream than granulated sugar does. This makes the ice cream less susceptible to the temperature shifts inevitable in a home freezer. These shifts cause constant thawing and refreezing, which creates crystallization even in the smoothest ice cream. Our ice cream stayed smooth for nearly a week- far longer than most homemde ice creams do.

Step-by-Step

For Super-Premium Smoothness, Keep It Cold

Freezing the custard as quickly as possible ensures the formation of small (versus large) ice crystals that re critical to smooth ice cream. Commercial producers use blast freezers or hardening rooms, where the temperature can hover as low as -50 degrees. We resorted to far humbler methods—with suprisingly similar results.

1. REFRIGERATE MOST OF THE CUSTARD Transfer all but 1 cup cooled custard to large bowl and chill in refrigerator at least 4 hours, until registers 40 degrees.
2. FREEZE 1 CUP CUSTARD Place remaining 1 cup custard in small bowl and freeze for same amount of time.
3. COMBINE CUSTARDS Scrape frozen custard into chilled custard and stir until fully dissolved; now deeply chilled base registers around 30 degrees.
4.CHURN SUPER-CHILLED BASE Strain custard and churn until ice cream has soft-serve texture and registers about 21 degrees, 15 to 25 minutes.
5. FAST FREEZE Transfer ice cream to chilled metal baking pan, where it will freeze faster than in usual tall container, and freeze until firm around edges, about 1 hour.
6. FULLY FREEZE Transfer ice cream to airtight container, press out air pockets, and freeze until firm, at least 2 hours.
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