September 7, 2010

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

For the longest time I didn't stock vanilla beans in my pantry.  Sure, I had vanilla extract, but I am not a huge fan of vanilla-flavored things, so I didn't think vanilla beans were a necessity.  I mean at $2.50 each, they are a bit pricey.  But at a recent family gathering we talked about making our own vanilla extract and how it was so easy and economical.  So I bought some vanilla beans for that.  I kept one aside for making those Browned Butter Peach Bars, and then my dad sent my some, so I've had a good supply to experiment with.  While I found the vanilla flavor a bit over-powering in the Browned Butter Peach Bars (I'm thinking of making those again but with a lavander-peach jam instead of the orange-peach combination), the vanilla in this ice cream is perfect.  Perfect.  This whole ice cream is perfect, if you like premium, custard-based ice creams, and boy, do I!  The texture is smooth and creamy. Immediately out of the churn, it was a soft-serve consistency.  A few hours and a few days later it is perfectly scoop-able.  The sweetness is just right, not cloying or overdone.  The vanilla is pleasant without being overpowering.  It is the perfect thing to serve atop a summer fruit dessert and the perfect background to all sorts of mix-ins.  (I chose brownies, because those brownies that I complained about a month or so ago, remember them?  They have a really pleasing, chewy consistency when frozen.  Of course, I had already run out of that batch when I made this, so I had to make a new batch of brownies.  This time I chose a Hazelnut Brownie, which we'll get to soon enough.)

Plan to start this ice cream the evening before you plan to serve it.  I know that seems like a lot of lead time, but if you plan ahead you can integrate the steps into your life and get it done without it feeling like a chore.

All summer I've shied away from custard-based ice creams for reasons:  not wanting to throw together a batch of merengues with the leftover egg whites, and not wanting to stand over a hot stove stirring the custard constantly for 10 minutes or more.  Maybe I've had some bad experiences with custards in the past, but when I started this one my mind went through a mental checklist: Whisk.  Check.  Rubber Scraper.  Check.  Mesh strainer. Check.  Egg yolks in a glass measuring cup.  Check.  Tall glass of water in case I get thirsty.  Check.   Something to read in case this goes on too long.  Check.  Thermometer.  Where is that thermometer?  Maybe I should dig it out.  Oh, but the heat is already on and I am supposed to be stirring constantly.  Wait...  Before I could even get through the checklist the custard had thickened.  I don't know why it happened so fast, except that when the custard part of the process starts the milk has already been heated with the sugar, and a vanilla bean has been steeping in the mixture for an hour, so it is still warm.

David L's Vanilla Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1 cup whole milk
A pinch of kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
5 egg yolks (the original recipe calls for large, I used medium)
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat the milk, salt and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat.  Scrape vanilla bean seeds out of vanilla bean pod.  Add vanilla seeds and pod to milk and cover.  Let the mixture infuse for 1 hour.

2.  Prepare an ice bath by placing a medium size bowl or measuring cup (1 1/2 quarts) into a large bowl filled with some ice and water. Pour cream into medium bowl and set mesh strainer over bowl.

3.  In 2-cup glass measuring cup or small mixing bowl whisk together egg yolks.  Return vanilla-infused milk-sugar mixture to the heat.  Do not remove vanilla bean yet.  Heat the milk until steaming.  Then gradually pour some of the milk into the egg yolks to temper them.  This keeps them from becoming scrambled eggs when you mix them into he hot milk.  Stir at least half of the hot milk into the egg yolks. Then return pan to the heat and gradually pour the tempered egg yolks into the remaining milk, stirring gently as you do so.

4.  Heat the custard over low or medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan with a heat-resistant spatula until the custard thickens to coat the back of a spoon.  (Dip a spoon in the custard, then pull your finger along the back of the spoon, if the line where the custard was removed remains distinct, the custard is ready.)  Depending on the temperature of your stove, this may take as little as 5 minutes or as much as 20 minutes.

5. Pour custard through strainer into cream.  (You are removing the vanilla bean, as well as any scrambled-egg clumps.)  Use a spatula or whisk to gently stir custard in strainer and encourage it to strain through.  With clean utensil stir in vanilla extract and continue stirring to cool mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap and let ripen overnight or up to 24 hours.

6. In the morning or afternoon of the following day, churn custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Twenty minutes in my Cuisinart gives it a soft serve consistency.  Pack in a quart size container (layering in up to 3/4 cup mix-ins, if desired).  Freeze at least 2 hours before serving for perfect scoopability.

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