French Vanilla Ice Cream

Classic French vanilla ice cream, homemade vanilla ice cream using a custard base, sugar, cream, and real vanilla beans.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Years ago I remember my father making vanilla ice cream for all of us with an ice cream maker that required a lot of crushed ice and salt. Can’t remember now if it was hand crank or electric. But man oh man was that ice cream good—so rich and creamy!

The ice cream makers have improved a lot in the last thirty years, no more need for crushed ice or salt, just have to remember to put the bowl in the freezer a day ahead of time.

We recently bought a new ice cream maker and to break it in we made a batch of French vanilla ice cream—the kind with egg yolks and vanilla been seeds in it.

French vanilla is a bit more complicated than regular vanilla or most of the ice cream recipes that come with the machine, as you need to prepare a custard mix by cooking the eggs and cream first.

But unlike many homemade ice creams which can be a little on the ice-y side, because of the added richness of the egg yolks, French vanilla stays creamier—at least for the first day or two in the freezer.

Actually, I don’t think this batch lasted past day two, it was just too good to let languish in the freezer.

French Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe

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  • Yield: Makes 1 1/2 quarts

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (separated into 1 cup and 1/2 cup)
  • 2 vanilla beans, split in half lengthwise
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup white, granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Special equipment needed

An ice cream maker, or a KitchenAid mixer with an ice cream attachment

Method

1 In a medium bowl, beat together the yolks and half of the sugar. You can beat by hand using a whisk or using a hand mixer or egg beater. Beat until thoroughly smooth and creamy. (A couple of minutes by hand.)

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2 Put cream, 1 cup of the milk, the remaining half of the sugar, and the salt into a saucepan on medium heat. Use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape out the tiny seeds from the vanilla beans, and stir them into the milk cream mixture. Heat until steamy, but not simmering. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand while the vanilla infuses.

3 Fill a large bowl half way with ice and cold water (bowl should be large enough for another bowl to easily fit inside of it). Set aside.

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4 Temper the eggs—vigorously whisk the eggs while you slowly dribble half of the cream mixture into it. Pour the egg mixture into the pot with the remaining cream and milk.

5 Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spoon. (You can run your finger in a line over the back of the coated spoon. If the mixture doesn't run, but stays in place on the spoon, it should be thick enough.) Remove from heat and mix in the remaining 1/2 cup of milk to stop the mixture from overcooking.

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6 Set a stainless steal bowl over the ice water bath that you've prepared. Place a mesh strainer over the top bowl and pour the custard through it.

Let the custard cool completely, stirring to help chill it quickly. Put into the refrigerator and let chill for at least an hour, preferably several hours.

7 Freeze custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. (Take care not to over churn the ice cream or it will get a grainy texture.) If you serve the ice cream immediately, it will have the consistency of soft serve ice cream. Freeze it for at least an hour in an airtight plastic container to have a firmer texture. If it has been frozen for more than a day, you may need to let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes to soften before serving it.

Serve with caramel sauce.

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Links:

How to make ice cream without a machine - advice from the ice cream expert, David Lebovitz

French Vanilla Ice Cream

Showing 4 of 23 Comments

  • Andrew

    This looks like a fantastic recipe, but I’m having some trouble with it. I’m not sure why, but it keeps turning out rather waxy. The only solution I can find online is that I might be whisking/mixing/”churning” (not using a churn) it too much and, for all intents and purposes, turning it into butter. I’ve been making ice cream for a while now, and I’ve never run into this problem. On the other hand, I know it’s not a flaw in the recipe, so it must be something I’m doing wrong… Any ideas, based on what I’ve said here? If not, I could try to elaborate.

    Thank you

  • Diane

    I don’t know how long ago Jessica asked the question about making her ice cream a darker yellow, but I do know that the color of the yolks is key & most supermarket eggs tend to be rather pale. If you have access to eggs from backyard chickens, especially those that free range, they will be darker. Since I don’t, I buy Trader Joe’s dark yolk eggs.

  • Ego

    Hi Elise,

    I suppose that the temperatures are in degrees Fahrenheìt?

  • Lauren

    Ooohh! I can’t wait to try this recipe. Unfortunately, the cost of vanilla beans from my local grocery store might deter me from this endeavor. I am thinking about searching online. Do you have any good recommendations for an online vanilla bean retailer, Elise?

    Beanilla.com many people have been happy with. ~Elise

  • Judi

    Mmm, yummy. The last ice cream recipe I looked at talked about how to add different flavours to a basic custard, and then said, “Want vanilla? You’ve already got it!”

    Erm, no. That would be “plain”, which is not the same as “vanilla” at all. I used a few teaspoons of light rum (Bundaberg) instead of vodka. You don’t really taste it, but it adds a warmth that really brings out the vanilla flavour. Yum!

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