Just-the-Best Vanilla Ice Cream

May 29, 2020
4 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 3 hours 45 minutes
  • Cook time 10 minutes
  • Makes 1 quart
Author Notes

The only thing better than a spoonful of warm blackberry cobbler or a wedge of chocolatey chocolate cake, is the aforementioned, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside. Warm berry tartness and dense chocolate-on-chocolate fudginess meet their sole match: only the creamy cooling, overwhelming magic of vanilla ice cream can break up fudginess, or enrobe and de-sting warm berry tartness.

This version here is not ice milk (no cream), Philadelphia-style (no eggs) nor gelato (lots of eggs), but somewhere in the middle. Milk and cream gets thickened with egg yolks and cornstarch over heat, chilled down quickly, and stirred while being frozen.

Egg yolks add richness and protect against iciness; the extra fat prevents the water in milk and cream from freezing into large, distinct shards. Too many egg yolks will make for a dense ice cream, one that’s closer to gelato (which isn’t a bad thing!)—and a distinctly yellow one at that. I split the difference here (gelati typically call for five or six yolks per pint, while Philadelphia-style ice creams, ice milks, sorbets, and sherbets call for none). Three yolks is enough to avoid an icy texture—which ice creams made in at-home machines are likely to have—but not so much that the custard looks like it’s mango-flavored.

Chilling the base (called “aging”) ensures that the custard is nice and cold before being churned and frozen, and encourages the binding of dairy and egg fat molecules (i.e. thicker-textured, creamier ice cream). The ice bath is a speedy option, but if you’re in no rush, let the custard rest in the fridge overnight (or up to 5 days) and churn later on. Keep ice cream from going icy by transferring the frozen base to a frozen container and pressing a parchment circle directly onto its surface.

If you happen to have a vanilla bean in your baking pantry, you will be rewarded with extra fragrant, sweetly speckled scoops. (Psst, don’t throw out the spent pod—I stick them in a mini-bar bottle of vodka that I top off occasionally for homemade vanilla extract.) But it’s really not necessary: Our test kitchen tested this recipe with vanilla extract, and that batch, stashed in a secret freezer with tasting spoons, was gone within two hours. Enjoy straight from the freezer like our team did, or spooned onto Blackberry Cobbler. —Coral Lee

What You'll Need
  • 2 1/2 cups (591 grams) heavy cream
  • 1 cup (240 grams) whole milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or seeds of 1 vanilla pod)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon (165 grams) granulated sugar
  1. Stick an airtight freezer-safe quart container in the freezer. Combine the cream, milk, vanilla, and salt in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Heat until steamy, 5 to 7 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pot regularly with a flexible spatula to prevent any sticking or burning.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a medium heat-proof mixing bowl until smooth.
  3. When the cream mixture is steaming, slowly whisk it into the egg mixture. (Pour too quickly, and you’ll get scrambled eggs.) Add the combined custard back to the pan (reserving the bowl), and set over medium-low heat. Cook to 180°F, again scraping the bottom regularly to prevent any sticking or burning. If you don’t have a thermometer, dip a spoon in, and draw a line through the custard with your finger. If the custard is thick enough to hold that line cleanly, it is ready.
  4. When the custard is ready, pour it back into the mixing bowl, and set into a larger bowl or sink filled with ice water. Stir occasionally until chilled to room temperature, about 20 minutes, then stick in the fridge for another hour. (The colder it is going into the ice cream machine, the better-textured!) Alternatively, skip the ice bath and let custard rest, covered, in the fridge for at least 4 hours.
  5. When ready to churn, fine-strain the custard into an ice cream machine. Churn until frozen, about 20 minutes, or as instructed by the manufacturer. Transfer the ice cream to your chilled container, and cover surface with a parchment circle. Freeze until solid, about 2 hours, and keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Alex Stenning
    Alex Stenning
  • Emilie Bertelsen
    Emilie Bertelsen
  • Carol Mathias
    Carol Mathias
  • Coral Lee
    Coral Lee

9 Reviews

Heather March 26, 2023
The texture and color of this ice cream were quite nice, but the vanilla flavor was far too weak and the overall taste was simply too sweet. I would modify this recipe by adding at least one more teaspoon of vanilla and cutting the sugar in half.
Alex S. July 9, 2022
This recipe mentions CORNSTARCH in the preamble but nowhere is it in the ingredients or method. Please can you explain
JudysFood January 18, 2022
I am a type 1 diabetic and need to know how many carbs are in my food. Is there a way to get the nutritional information on these recipes? Thanks.
JustineFL March 24, 2021
Just curious- in the introduction you mention corn starch to thicken, however that is not part of the recipe? It took some time for mine to thicken - would that have made the difference?
Coral L. March 24, 2021
Hi Justine! Apologies that was a detail left from a previous test. The custard should thicken with the egg yolks alone, and yes, it should happen gradually.
Emilie B. October 15, 2020
The grams does’nt make any sense. 2.5 cups = 480 grams and 1 cup = 360 grams, thats just not correct, it can’t be 2.5 times the alpint in cups but be so close in grams
Emilie B. October 15, 2020
Coral L. October 15, 2020
Hi Emilie! Thanks for flagging. The grams measurements were from an early iteration in the development process. I've amended with the amounts used in my most recent test. Thanks again!
Carol M. October 4, 2020
Absolutely amazing. Close to gelato texture and a delightful taste. Everyone closes their eyes and cease talking when they take a spoonful. The senses are all on the tongue and cannot be distracted.

It also has no leftover slurry. It all fits in my 1 qt. Cuisinart Ice cream machine.