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Perfecting a new ice cream recipe is like falling down a rabbit hole. You just can’t stop tweaking and trying again. And tasting. The problem is that none of the experiments are not delicious, especially fresh from the machine. It’s impossible not to lick the ice cream left on the paddle and scrape up and eat any ice cream that remains in the container after you’ve transferred the batch to the freezer. Of course, you must taste again after the ice cream is hard (because that is when flaws tend to show up) and, um, probably later the next day and the next. After the gym or before bed are also good times.
Because you take the work seriously, you have to compare each new batch to the best of the previous batches. With so much ice cream on hand, you have to serve your friends and family, and taste again when they do.
I was looking for a new favorite vanilla. I had to start somewhere, so I began with an old recipe of my own. I used to like it, but now I had to make sure I still liked it. Was the ratio of milk to cream right, the number of eggs per quart, the level of sugar? After a few rounds, I realized that my old ratios still pleased me. I was especially happy with the relatively low level of sugar compared with commercial ice cream—one of the many reasons I like to make my own. But I definitely wanted a smoother, creamier mouthfeel than before.
There are several ways to get a creamier, more voluptuous ice cream:
- Increase the amount of sugar
- Increase the number of egg yolks
- Swap some of the sugar for an invert sugar (glucose, corn syrup, honey…)
- Increase solids by adding milk powder or cream cheese or other thick, fibrous, or liquid absorbing ingredients
Since I don’t like super-sweet ice cream, I was not going to add sugar just to improve texture! And since I already liked the level of egg yolk flavor in my recipe, I wasn’t going to add yolks either. (I do like more yolks for certain other flavors, but not for vanilla.)
I decided to increase solids by adding nonfat milk powder. Now you may be thinking that nonfat milk powder sounds non-delicious, but high-quality milk powder has a lovely, sweet, clean, dairy milk flavor—I knew it would be perfect for vanilla ice cream. Good milk powder is readily available, either from Organic Valley or from Bob’s Red Mill. Both are useful and delicious ingredients, and also good for making all sorts of other things.
My first test with milk powder was wonderfully creamy and delicious. Now I couldn’t help swapping some of the sugar for a liquid sugar. I tried honey and I tried golden syrup—and both were good, but the honey flavor was itself so nice that it distracted from the vanilla. (Honey ice cream is now on my to-do list). Golden syrup was more compelling: In addition to softening the ice cream, it added a subtle base note of caramel that seemed to need a pinch of salt. I added back the salt that I had taken out of my old recipe! And I tweaked the ratio of sugar to syrup so that the syrup flavor was more nuanced. The whole project took a zillion mini batches and a whole lot of "tasting."
By now you’ve probably realized—if you didn’t already know— that ratios for ice cream are not cast in stone. Recipes are flexible and you can experiment. If my recipe is not quite your ideal vanilla, there is no harm in tinkering with the amounts of sugar or yolks or milk powder or the ratio of milk to cream. You can omit the golden syrup and add back some sugar. The fun and flexibility are what I love about ice cream-making—that and that all experiments are utterly delicious. And no one gets tired of tasting!
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean (see note)
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar
- 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (50 grams) premium nonfat milk powder (I like Organic Valley or Bob's Red Mill)
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon (28 grams) golden syrup
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Describe your ideal vanilla ice cream in the comments.