This Super-Creamy Vanilla Ice Cream Required *Many* Taste Tests to Perfect

August 15, 2016

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.

Shop the Story

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.)

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“I've run into you several times at your favorite green grocer in Berkeley so I'm curious where I can find the dry organic milk ? no one around here has it or online too. Thanks and for your fun recipes. ”
— vrinda

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.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

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!

Alice Medrich is a Berkeley, California-based pastry chef, chocolatier, and cookbook author. You can read more about what she's up to here.

Describe your ideal vanilla ice cream in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • PW
  • julie
  • vrinda
  • Jocelyn McAuley
    Jocelyn McAuley
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


PW August 15, 2016
Can't wait to try this out! Got to figure out where to get the organic milk powder though. Like vrinda I also can't picture it being sold at any of the Berkeley groceries I frequent, maybe I've just never registered them before.

I'm also wondering about the technique of combining the milk with the egg mixture, heating the cream by itself, then just pouring the egg/milk mixture into the cream. Is this a streamlined method that takes a bit of fuss out of regular tempering?
julie August 15, 2016
It's a good thing I make ice cream and am familiar with the process but a newbie reading this would wonder what to do after assembling the ingredients...
Jocelyn M. August 15, 2016
Hi Julie- Food 52 uses a format of requiring users to click on the "recipe" button (next to the "save" button) for the full instructions. You can find the entire recipe here:
vrinda August 15, 2016
As usual a brilliant recipe from Alice !
I've run into you several times at your favorite green grocer in Berkeley so I'm curious where I can find the dry organic milk ?
no one around here has it or online too.
Thanks and for your fun recipes.