French Vanilla Ice Cream

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

  • Yield: Makes 1 1/2 quarts


  • 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:


1 Beat egg yolks with half of the sugar: 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.)

2 Heat cream, milk, remaining sugar with vanilla beans: 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 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. Set aside.

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 custard until it thickens: 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.

6 Pour custard through a sieve into bowl over ice bath: 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.

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 to store: 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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  • 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!


  • 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!


  • 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.

  • rayna

    The idea of having to wait longer than necessary for homemade ice cream never appealed to me; I typically make all kinds without eggs, and we’ve always been happy. I never have much patience whisking egg yolks endlessly, heating cream slowly, only to chill it even more slowly (or so it seemed). But the labor ended up being worth the extra work of the custard base. This ice cream was wonderful, the best I have ever had. Over some warmed, spiced gingerbread made a few days ago, it was ultimate cool weather comfort.


  • Jessica

    I tried this recipe early this morning and it turned out wonderful. Since I didn’t have any vanilla beans on hand I used two heaping teaspoons of vanilla bean paste. I also did not have enough eggs on hand to make a full batch so I had to half the recipe but it still turned out great. Good creamy consistency and texture. I believe this will be my go to recipe for a good vanilla ice cream. I will probably make the recommended caramel sauce later tonight to have a warm component for the ice cream. Thank you so much for a great recipe!


  • 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!


  • John Goines

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

  • Jessica

    French Vanilla ice cream, another surefire ay of maintaining my non diet. I do have 2 questions though.

    First I lack the funds at the moment for vanilla beans. Could I use a quality extract in to make of for it or should I just wait until I can get some of the beans?

    Also I use to eat a Vanilla ice cream at a shop near a huge strip close to a shopping area and theirs is super yellow and wanted to know if I could I just up the amount of yolks in the recipe to fit it. Or does it just depend on the quality of the yolks in the first place?

    Sure, put in a tablespoon of vanilla extract right before churning. Actually, you can put in up to two tablespoons of vanilla extract, but start with one and taste to see if it is vanilla-y enough for you. More than 2 tbsp and your ice cream will have trouble freezing, if you are using an alcohol-based extract. As for the yellow color, you can increase the egg yolk amount by a couple of eggs if you want. ~Elise

  • 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? many people have been happy with. ~Elise

  • Vikki

    Hi Elise,

    How do you keep from getting the ice crystals in your ice cream? We have the same Cuisinart maker that you have pictured. Our first attempt was the French Vanilla – great flavor put icy. Second attempt was just cream / half and half / sugar and Mexican vanilla, Again great flavor but icy. I’ve got David Lebovitz book on order but I don’t want to wait :(

    Homemade ice cream is usually best eaten the day made, for that reason. It gets icy. Adding some 80 proof alcohol to the mix will help, like vodka or rum, because alcohol freezes at a much much lower temperature than what your home freezer can produce. More than 3 Tbsp per batch and you are risking the ice cream not freezing at all. Adding some corn syrup can help too, corn syrup is an “invert sugar” that helps prevent crystals from forming. Using an ice cream recipe with a custard base (with eggs) will help too. The recipes without eggs are the ones prone to the most iciness. But in any case your homemade ice cream will get icy over time, usually within days, much faster than commercial ice creams. ~Elise

  • Arundathi

    Thanks so much for the step by step pictures. We don’t get vanilla beans in India, can I substitute it with vanilla extract? How much extract should I be using?

    Try a tablespoon of vanilla extract. But put it in at the very end, after the mixture is cold and about to go in the ice cream maker. ~Elise

  • Beth

    Jerry, I usually buy my vanilla beans online. They are much cheaper than in the store, and a lot better quality! Beanilla Trading Company seems to have the best.

  • Tara

    At William Sonoma you can purchase Neilsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon vanilla and vanilla beans (and also paste which is way easier than beans!) I also perfer the taste to Watkins.

  • Michelle

    Does anyone have a substitution for Watkins Vanilla? I’m afraid I don’t know where to find vanilla beans here in town. Thanks!

    • Joyce

      Michelle, order vanilla beans on the internet from Olive Nation. Very good and very reasonable price.

  • Jerry Miller

    The ice cream in the picture looks a pale off-white like commercial “French” vanilla, although I’m sure it tastes better. What happens if you double the number of yolks? The reason I ask is that the Ritz Barbecue in the Allentown (Pa.) Fairgrounds has been making bright yellow French vanilla, probably since before I was born. I used to think I didn’t like vanilla ice cream until I first tasted theirs in the late 50’s/early 60’s.

    For the dessert reception after the second installment of my second wedding in 1996, we bought several 3-gallon containers and received rave reviews.

  • Liz

    I’ve seen it here as well as the recipe book that came with my ice cream maker – why should I use a plastic container to freeze the ice cream? I don’t have any plastic ones big enough but have some great glass (Pyrex is awesome) ones?

  • Anonymous


    The Liquide Nitrogen will not dissolve in the cream. All (99.99%) of it will boil away.

  • Elise Bauer

    I have to admit I was stumped by the “how to make ice cream without an ice cream maker” question. What a great idea to use coffee cans and the shaking power of 10 year olds! Thank you Liz.

    Hi Andrew – regarding using liquid nitrogen, Heidi of 101 Cookbooks has a detailed post about liquid nitrogen ice cream with photos and all. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Andrew

    If you have know someone with access to liquid nitrogen and don’t mind making a mess, you can make some of the creamiest ice cream possible. The reason you churn ice cream is to make sure the ice crystals stay as small as possible. The smaller the ice crystals, the creamier the ice cream (as well as the amount of actual cream). Using your favourite ice cream recipe in a metal bowl, slowly add the liquid nitrogen about a cup at a time. It is best if your mixture is as cold as possible before this step. The liq. nitrogen will turn into a gas and make a lot of bubbles and mess so you should do this outside. Stirring extremely vigorously with a wooden spoon, the liquid nitrogen will dissolve (to a certain point) with the mixture and make extremely small ice crystals. When it approaches your desired consistancy, serve as you wish. It is important that safety goggles, gloves and appropriate clothing be worn when using this recipe. It has long been a favourite of Harvard University’s introductory chemistry class.

  • Liz

    I work with children and have used a couple of ways to make ice cream with out a mixer. They work best if you can utilize the energy of someone under 10. The first method involves two coffee cans – one small enough to fit in the larger one. Put the ice ingredients in the smaller can, tape the lid closed. Put in the bigger can and layer with rock salt and ice. now roll it back and forth for about 10-15 minutes. the second uses a zippered sandwich baggie and a larger zippered baggie. Put ingredients into smaller bag, place in big bag, layer with ice and rock salt and shake it! They make smaller amounts but sure is fun to do on a hot day!

  • shiyun

    Do you have any tips for those without ice cream maker?

    Note from Elise: ice cream expert David Lebovitz has written a how-to on making ice cream without an ice cream maker, check his article for details.