Sweet, creamy, decadent and refreshing; is there any dessert more satisfying than a bowl of French vanilla ice cream? The only thing that tops it for me is when the ice cream is homemade. Back by popular demand, follow along this all-time reader favorite as I show you how to prepare this classic treat, as well as a few desserts that feature it.
What is Ice Cream?
Oh boy, this is a loaded question. Nonetheless, it's important I try to answer it before we begin our quest for a homemade version, especially since the ice cream we're making is actually frozen custard. I'm getting ahead of myself here, so I'll start from the beginning.
The idea of frozen desserts can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Chinese. These cultures not only utilized ice for refrigeration, but they also combined it with sweeteners such as fruit and syrups to create delicious and refreshing frozen desserts.
These flavored ices eventually made their way through Europe. While the exact timeline is a bit sketchy, it is thought that by the middle 1600s Italians had begun incorporating dairy into their frozen desserts. The French and the English eventually caught on. They adapted the Italian recipes and by the end of the 18th century, Quaker colonists had brought their ice cream recipes to America.
Since ice cream can be somewhat of an all-encompassing term, the following is a list of some popular frozen desserts, as well as a quick explanation about what makes them unique.
Ice Cream (or Philadelphia-style ice cream)
Virtually the same product that came over from England at the end of the 18th century, its ingredients include cream, sugar, and flavoring(s). Mass produced versions sold in stores will also contain various natural emulsifiers. According to federal regulations, ice cream must contain no less that 10 percent milk fat and no less than 10 percent nonfat milk solids.
Frozen Custard (or French-style ice cream)
This frozen dessert contains the same ingredients as Philadelphia-style ice cream with the addition of egg yolks that help to accentuate creaminess. The ingredients are heated to form custard, cooled and then frozen. Federal regulations dictate that this product contain no less than 10 percent milk fat and at least 1.4 percent egg yolk. Also, there is typically less air whipped into frozen custard, making it denser than regular ice cream.
Typically containing between 3 and 6 percent milk fat, it's held at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream or frozen custard. Soft serve also contains more air, sometimes up to 60 percent of the dessert's volume.
Contains less than 10 percent milk fat and is slightly less sweet than ice cream. This product is now typically sold as low-fat or light ice cream.
This is an Italian version of ice cream. Typically made with whole milk, it contains a lesser amount of milk fat than American ice cream, as well as a lesser amount of air. It is, however, stabilized with an emulsifier. Traditionally this was done with eggs, but due to the modernization of gelato making techniques, other emulsifiers are now used.
This is made with minimal amounts of dairy, so it only contains between 1 and 2 percent milk fat. It is also much sweeter than ice cream.
Containing no dairy, Sorbet is made with sweetened water flavored by fruit juice, fruit puree, wine, liqueur, or chocolate. Granita is an Italian version of Sorbet, but features larger ice crystals that give it a crunchier texture.
Making Ice Cream At Home
Now that you have a bit of an understanding of the world of frozen desserts, let's talk about making ice cream at home. First and foremost you're going to need an ice cream maker.
Before you run out and spend hundreds of dollars on a professional model, I suggest getting your feet wet with a much less expensive home model. They are not hard to find and depending on the brand name, as well as how and where you purchase your ice cream maker, expect to spend anywhere from thirty to one hundred dollars.
There are two things you want to look for when buying an ice cream maker. First, do yourself a favor and make sure it is automatic. Old-fashioned, hand cranked versions may look cool, but trust me when I say they wear out their welcome. While I love a good workout, making ice cream should not involve exercise. Automatic ice cream makers feature a paddle (known as a dasher) attached to a motor. Press a button and the machine churns the ice cream for you.
The second thing you should look for is a double-insulated freezer bowl. Instead of using mass amounts of ice and rock salt to freeze the ice cream, insulated bowls are filled with a synthetic gel. Place the bowl in the freezer for 24 hours and you're ready to make ice cream.
When shopping for your ice cream maker, I suggest doing a bit of research based on your needs and budget. Visit retail stores and scour the Internet for the ice cream maker that's right for you. At that point, check websites like Amazon.com and Shopping.com for the best prices.
Before we get to my recipe for French vanilla ice cream, allow me to pass on a few tidbits of ice cream making advice:
- From set up to operation, ice cream makers will differ with each brand. Be sure to follow the instructions for the version you purchase.
- Making any type of frozen dessert will involve a bit of a learning curve. Don't be afraid to experiment with different recipes.
- Optimal textures for most frozen desserts are achieved by minimizing the size of the ice crystals within the finished product. The way to accomplish this is by thoroughly chilling your mixture before it goes into your ice cream maker.
Let's make some ice cream...
CLASSIC FRENCH VANILLA ICE CREAM (makes 5 cups)
- 8 large egg yolks
- 3/4 C sugar
- 2.5 C heavy cream
- 1.5 C whole milk
- 1/8 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and the seeds scraped out
- 2 tsp high-quality vanilla extract
In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and half of the sugar.
In a heavy-bottom saucepot, combine cream, milk, the remaining sugar, salt, vanilla bean and seeds.
Stirring frequently, heat the cream over a medium-low flame until it just begins to boil. Remove from heat and add the vanilla extract.
Temper the eggs by slowly whisking in a 1/2 cup of the heated cream. Stirring vigorously, slowly add the egg mixture back into the saucepot of heated cream.
Place saucepot over a medium-low flame and stirring continuously, cook for 10 minutes or until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Pass the custard through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl that's placed in an ice bath. Gently stir until the custard is thoroughly chilled.
Place chilled custard into your ice cream maker and churn for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the ice cream reaches a soft serve consistency. Transfer to a sealable container and freeze for 2 hours.
Enjoy your ice cream as is, or topped with anything from fresh fruit to chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
Another one of my favorites is the classic New Orleans dessert known as Bananas Foster. Here's my recipe for this delicious treat.
- 2 large ripe bananas, cut into 1" slices
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1 C dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tbsp orange zest (optional)
- 1/4 C banana liqueur
- 1/2 C dark rum
Over a low heat melt butter in a heavy skillet. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, orange zest, and banana liqueur. Stir well and cook for two minutes. Add bananas and cook for an additional minute.
Remove skillet from heat and add the dark rum. Being careful to avert your face, flame the bananas using either a barbecue lighter or long match. Once the flame subsides, spoon bananas and sauce over scoops of vanilla ice cream. Serves four.
Here's to enjoying an everlasting bowl of homemade French vanilla ice cream...any time of year!
Kirk Leins has been cooking his entire life. No stranger to professional kitchens, he currently devotes most of his time to cooking instruction, food writing, and producing television. Kirk also provides his services as a personal chef in and around the Los Angeles area. He has made several TV appearances on both the national and local level, and is the Executive Chef for YOU Magazine. Sign up for Kirk's free newsletter and cooking blog at www.NoTimeToCook.com.