French Vanilla Ice Cream

DessertIce CreamVanilla

This homemade vanilla ice cream is made with a custard base, sugar, cream, and real vanilla beans. So classic, and so good!

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Do you ever make homemade ice cream? We used an old style ice cream maker when I was a kid, the kind that uses a lot of crushed ice and salt. These days making ice cream at home is so much easier with an electric ice cream maker, anyone can do it!

I admit that given a choice between chocolate and vanilla, I will almost always raise my hand for chocolate. That said, nothing goes better with a slice of hot apple pie than a cold scoop of vanilla ice cream, right? And if you are going to make vanilla ice cream, you may as well go all in and make French vanilla ice cream.

What is French Vanilla Ice Cream?

“French” vanilla actually has nothing to do with the variety of vanilla bean, but instead refers to the classic French method of making a custard. French vanilla ice cream is made with a custard base that includes egg yolks.

Using egg yolks results in an ice cream with a creamier texture and a more yellow in color, in contrast to what’s often referred to as Philadelphia-style vanilla ice cream, which does not require a custard base. French vanilla ice cream also often has speckles of real vanilla bean throughout.

French Vanilla Ice Cream

How to Make French Vanilla Ice Cream

French vanilla is a little bit more complicated to make than regular vanilla ice cream, as you need to prepare a custard mix by cooking the eggs and cream first.

To make it, you first infuse sweetened milk and cream with the seeds and pods from real vanilla beans. Then, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until velvety smooth, and “temper” egg yolks with some of the hot cream mixture. Add the tempered eggs yolks into the hot cream mixture and gently cook, stirring, until the custard base starts to thicken.

Once the custard base thickens, you remove it from the stove and pour it through a sieve into chilled cream in an ice bath to stop the eggs from cooking further.

Chill the whole mixture and then process it in an ice cream maker.

Why temper the eggs?

If you just add egg yolks directly to the hot cream mixture, they’ll cook and curdle almost instantaneously. So to prepare a smooth custard base, one needs to “temper” the egg yolks by adding a little hot liquid to them first while you whisk them vigorously. Once the egg mixture has been tempered, it can be added back to the hot cream mixture.

Can I make ice cream without an ice cream maker?

Yes! It just takes a bit more attention and time. Our friend and ice cream expert David Lebovitz has some excellent tips about how to make ice cream without a machine.

Basically, once you chill the custard base, put it into a durable container in the freezer. Every 45 minutes or so, open the freezer door to check it. When it starts to freeze near the edges, remove it from the freezer and beat it vigorously with a whisk or with a hand held mixer or stick blender. Keep checking and stirring until the ice cream is frozen in a couple hours.

RECIPES TO SERVE WITH FRENCH VANILLA ICE CREAM:

Updated October 20, 2019 : We spiffed up this post to make it sparkle. No changes to the original recipe.

French Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe

  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Chilling, Churning, & Freezing time: 4 to 5 hours
  • Yield: Makes 1 1/2 quarts

Ingredients

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

Special equipment:

Method

1 Infuse the milk and cream with vanilla: Put the milk and 1 1/2 cups of the cream, 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 both the seeds and the pods into the milk cream mixture.

Heat until steamy, but not simmering. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand while the vanilla infuses, about 20 to 30 minutes.

French Vanilla Ice Cream Ingredients add the vanilla

2 Beat egg yolks with half of the sugar: In a medium bowl, beat together the yolks and the remaining half of the sugar. You can use a hand mixer or beat by hand using a whisk. Beat until velvety smooth and creamy.

Best French Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe whisk the eggs and sugar

3 Prepare a bowl over an ice bath: Fill a large bowl half way with ice and cold water. Set a smaller metal bowl inside of it, and place the remaining cup of cream inside to chill. Place a strainer over the smaller bowl. Set aside.

4 Temper the eggs: Reheat the milk/cream mixture until it is just barely steamy (not boiling!). Vigorously whisk the eggs while you slowly dribble half of the milk/cream mixture into it. Pour the egg mixture into the pot with the remaining cream and milk.

French Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe temper the custard

5 Cook custard until thickened: Cook over medium high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spoon (about 180°F on an instant read thermometer). 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.

Homemade French Vanilla Ice Cream checking the consistency on the back of a spoon

6 Strain the custard: Remove from heat and immediately pour the custard through the the strainer you've placed over the bowl with cream in the ice bath. This will strain out the vanilla beans, and quickly lower the temp of the custard to stop it from cooking further.

Best French Vanilla Ice Cream straining the vanilla

7 Chill the custard: 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.

8 Process in ice cream maker: 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.)

9 Freeze: 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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Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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23 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Lola

    This is my very first vanilla ice cream I’ve made today and I must say it is absolutely divine. Thank you for sharing it. I want to note for other people attempting to make this that at first I thought that instead of putting the ice cream in an ice bath, I would let it cool at room temperature. Do not do this because it will continue cooking if it is not placed in the ice bath and the egg will go lumpy. Thankfully I realized that quickly and put the ice cream in an ice bath so it kept it’s creaminess and was smooth as silk. Amazing recipe!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  2. Joy

    The best vanilla ice cream I’ve ever made! Creamy, great flavor…I will definitely be using this recipe from now on! Thank you for sharing this recipe. The whole family loves it!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. John Goines

    I added a shot of Kentucky Bourbon, and changed the milk and heavy cream to half & half and heavy cream. Stellar. :)

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