I’ve never met an ice-cream I didn’t like (with the dishonourable exception of an oyster-flavoured cone on the Île de Ré), but for all the joys of a 99 Flake in the park or a tub of pistachio gelato on the sofa, there’s something particularly special about homemade vanilla. Fortunately, it’s almost as easy to make as it is to eat.
Prep 15 min, plus chilling and freezing
Cook 25 min
Makes 8 scoops
3 vanilla pods
4 egg yolks
90g caster sugar
50g skimmed milk powder
570ml whole milk
1 Prep the vanilla
Slit the vanilla pods open lengthways with a sharp knife and scrape out the seeds. Put these in a large bowl or food mixer, and add the egg yolks.
Put the empty pods in a large saucepan with two teaspoons of the sugar and the skimmed milk powder (a tip picked up from Heston Blumenthal: this will help thicken your ice-cream, while keeping its texture light.)
2 Infuse the milk
Stir the milk into the powder, then bring the contents of the pan slowly to just below a boil. Immediately turn down the heat, leave to simmer gently for five minutes, then turn off the heat and leave for at least 20 minutes, to give the vanilla a chance to infuse the milk.
3 Whisk the egg yolks
Meanwhile, add the remaining sugar to the egg yolks, then whisk on full speed, or with all the vigour you can muster, until pale yellow, thick and voluminous. This should take about 10 minutes with electric beaters, and rather longer with elbow grease.
4 Get your custard tools ready
Fill a sink or large container with iced water, and put a heatproof bowl big enough to hold half a litre or so of custard in it to chill. (This is not only helpful for rapid cooling, but a useful insurance measure; if the custard mix threatens to curdle at any point, plunge the pan into the water and you may well save it.)
5 Heat the milk and add to the yolks
If the egg yolk mixture isn’t already in a large heatproof bowl, transfer it to one, and set it by the hob. Remove the vanilla pods from the milk mix, then bring it back to a simmer over a medium heat – be careful not to scorch it. Pour the milk on to the egg yolk mixture, beating it in well as you do so.
6 Finish the custard
Return the lot to the pan and cook over a very low heat, stirring constantly, until it’s thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon and for you to draw a distinct line in it. Don’t be tempted to turn up the heat to hurry things along, or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs.
7 Cool, sieve and chill
Pour the custard into the cold bowl and leave to cool, stirring occasionally. Strain the cooled liquid through a sieve, to get rid of any lumps, then put in the fridge to chill – if it isn’t very cold before you begin the freezing process, you’ll struggle to make ice-cream, so don’t be tempted to skip this step.
8 Churn or freeze
If you have an ice-cream maker, churn the mix as per the manufacturer’s instructions. If not, put the cold custard into a wide container and freeze for about 90 minutes, or until solid around the edges. Beat this rim into the centre with a fork or electric beaters, return to the freezer and repeat the process at least twice more, before leaving to freeze. Take out of the freezer 20 minutes before serving.
9 Optional extras
If you’re not a vanilla fan, replace it with a pinch of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamon, ginger or mixed spice (remember that you can always add more, but not take any out, so be conservative to start with). Once the ice-cream has churned, you can also swirl through chocolate sauce, fruit coulis, dulce de leche, nuts, chocolate chips, cookie dough, etc.