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It’s been TEN years since my cookbook, Cookies & Cream: Hundreds of Ways to Make the Perfect Ice Cream Sandwich came out. That is absolute insanity to me.
So much work went into that book and I made enough ice cream recipes to last a lifetime. After I submitted my manuscript I didn’t make ice cream for MONTHS. I was a little burned out.
There are 50 ice cream recipes in there, and I tested each recipe multiple times. Then I wrote endlessly about the subject. It was a lot of ice cream. So much so that I had to buy an extra freezer at the time!
My obsession with ice cream has long since returned. Today I’m sharing how to make ice cream in ANY flavor you’d like. Just follow the step-by-step photos below and read through the additional sweet tips in the pink box for everything you need to know about making homemade ice cream.
I’ve listed out 10 delicious flavor variations in the pink box below as well. You can use this base homemade vanilla ice cream recipe to make cherry ice cream, chocolate ice cream, peanut butter – you name it!
Ice cream really doesn’t need to be complicated, but following the instructions will make you MUCH more likely to succeed. No soupy ice cream. No rock-hard crystallized ice cream. Just sweet, creamy perfection!
See each step detailed in full below followed by insights into the science of ice cream and answers to all of your questions.
Step-By-Step How to Make French Custard Vanilla Ice Cream
1. Prepare an Ice Bath
Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and a cup or two of water. Place a medium bowl fitted with a fine strainer inside ice bath. Set aside.
2. Begin the Custard Base
In a medium saucepan combine the milk, cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, salt, vanilla seeds, and vanilla pod. Set over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is warm and begins to steam, about 5 minutes.
3. How to Temper Eggs for Ice Cream
This process allows you to gently heat the yolks, so you don’t scramble them and end up with (unintentionally) chunky ice cream.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until very well combined and lightened in color.
- Carefully and slowly ladle half of the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, until the egg mixture is gently warmed.
- Slowly whisk the egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan.
4. Cook the Custard
- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and registers around 175°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Be careful not to boil the mixture – otherwise, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs.
- Make sure your thermometer isn’t touching the bottom of the pan when you take the temperature.
5. Chill the Custard
- Immediately strain the mixture through the fine strainer into the prepared ice bath. This prevents overcooking.
- Discard the vanilla bean pod.
- Cool the custard in the ice bath until it’s at room temperature, stirring often.
- Press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard and refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours or up to 1 day.
- Overnight is best for maximum flavor development.
6. Churn the Custard
- Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions.
- Place in an airtight container.
- Cover the ice cream surface with plastic wrap before placing the lid on.
- Freeze until the ice cream is firm and the flavor is ripened, at least 2 hours.
Tips for How to Make Homemade Ice Cream
What is the Difference Between French vs. Philadelphia-style Ice Cream?
French-style ice cream:
- Custard based.
- Ice cream made with an egg custard that’s cooked and then completely chilled before churning.
- It takes more time and effort, but the results are ultra-rich, creamy, and delicious.
- Since homemade ice cream is made without stabilizers and gums to keep it soft when frozen, going through the effort of making a custard base helps to create that velvety texture, instead of something that turns into a big ice cube in the freezer.
Philadelphia-style ice cream:
- Typically made by directly mixing together cream, milk, sugar, and flavorings then churning it.
- Definitely faster, but far less rich in taste and texture.
- This style tends to harden more quickly in the freezer.
What Does Churning Mean? How to Churn French-Style Custard Ice Cream
- Churning ice cream is simply the process of incorporating air into the custard while it’s being frozen.
- Ice Cream machines make easy work of this.
- Simply chill the cooked mixture, then the machine does the rest of the work!
- You’ll notice some brands of ice cream contain much more air than others.
- Some cheaper manufacturers intentionally ‘overchurn’ to get more yield with less product at the expense of the consumer’s satisfaction.
- The wonderful thing about making homemade ice cream is you get to decide how much air you want to incorporate!
How to Make Ice Cream WITHOUT A Machine
No ice cream maker? No problem! Check out my article for 4 methods for making ice cream without a machine (I’d recommend the food processor method most for this recipe!).
Homemade Ice Cream Flavor Variations
- Death by Chocolate Ice Cream: Full recipe HERE.
- White Chocolate Ice Cream: Add 6 ounces (170 grams) of melted and cooled white chocolate to the warmed milk mixture before adding the eggs. After cooking and straining the custard mixture, add an optional 1/2 teaspoon orange zest.
- Cookies & Cream: During the last 5 minutes of the churning process, pour in just over 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped whole Oreo cookies (about 15 Oreos).
- Mint Chocolate Chip: Add 1 teaspoon peppermint extract and 4 to 5 drops of optional green food coloring after straining the cooked custard into the ice bath. During the last 5 minutes of churning, add 1 cup (170 grams) mini semisweet chocolate chips.
- Malted Vanilla: Add 1/2 cup plain malted milk powder along with the milk and cream.
- Cherry: Increase the egg yolks to 5 total. After cooking the custard, stir in 1 1/2 cups fresh pitted sweet dark cherries. Let cool in an ice bath then transfer to a food processor or blender to puree. Strain as you transfer to an airtight container.
- Nutella: Add 1 cup (270 grams) Nutella after straining the cooked custard mixture into the ice bath, stirring to combine. Don’t worry if it doesn’t dissolve completely. It’ll mix in during the churning process.
- Peanut Butter: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add 1 cup (270 grams) of peanut butter and stir constantly until melted and smooth. Add the milk, cream, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, and vanilla and continue with the recipe as written. During the last 5 minutes of churning, add 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped peanut butter cups if desired.
- Mocha: Add 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process, and 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder along with the salt.
- Raspberry: In a food processor or blender, 2 1/2 cups of fresh or thawed frozen raspberries. Strain into a mixing bowl, discarding seeds and pulp. Refrigerate while you prepare the vanilla ice cream base. Once in the ice bath, stir the raspberry puree into the custard mixture. During the last minute of churning, add 1 tablespoon of raspberry liqueur such as Chambord.
More Ice Cream Recipes You’ll Love:
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream
- Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream
- Death by Chocolate Ice Cream
- 4th of July Ice Cream Sandwiches
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise and seeded
- 4 large egg yolks
Prepare the ice bath:
- Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and a cup or two of water. Place a medium bowl fitted with a fine strainer inside ice bath. Set aside.
Begin the custard base:
- In a medium saucepan combine the milk, cream, 1/2 cup (100 grams) of the sugar, salt, vanilla seeds and vanilla pod. Set over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is warm and begins to steam, about 5 minutes.
Temper the eggs:
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup (50 grams) of sugar until very well combined and lightened in color. Carefully and slowly ladle half of the warm milk mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, until the egg mixture is gently warmed. Slowly whisk the egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan.
Cook the custard:
- Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and registers around 175°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 to 7 minutes. Be careful not to boil the mixture.
Chill the custard:
- Immediately strain the mixture through the fine strainer into the prepared ice bath. Discard the vanilla bean pod. Cool the custard in the ice bath until it’s at room temperature, stirring often. Press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard and refrigerate until chilled, about 4 hours or up to 1 day.
Churn the custard:
- Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. Place in an airtight container. Cover the ice cream surface with plastic wrap before placing the lid on. Freeze until the ice cream is firm and flavor is ripened, at least 2 hours.
- If the ice cream has been in the freezer for more than a couple days, it’ll need to soften before scooping and serving. Allow it to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before scooping for best results.
Photos by Ashley McLaughlin.
How to Make Ice Cream FAQs
Help! My Custard Boiled and Curdled!
If you accidentally heat your custard over too high a temperature or cook for too long, there is one option to salvage it:
- While it’s still warm, blend the mixture with an immersion blender or carefully ladle it into a standard blender (don’t fill more than half full).
- Blend until smooth.
- Once smooth, strain into the ice bath as described above and in the recipe below.
What Type of Vanilla is Best for Making the Best Vanilla Ice Cream?
- The absolute best to use is a whole vanilla bean pod.
- In the recipe below, you’ll notice I scrape out the seeds and steep the milk and cream mixture with the vanilla pod to ensure maximum flavor.
- If you don’t have a vanilla bean pod, the next best thing is vanilla bean paste so you still get those flecks of vanilla seeds. I recommend using about 2 teaspoons.
- If you’re flavoring your ice cream with another bold flavor, like many of the customization ideas listed below, feel free to simply use vanilla extract.
- This is an easier and more economical option since the other ingredient will likely overpower the vanilla flavor anyway.
Which Ice Cream Machine is Best for Homemade Ice Cream?
- The Cuisinart ICE-21 1.5 Quart Machine is my FAVORITE Ice Cream Maker.
- I’ve had mine for almost 10 years and used it to test all the recipes for my first cookbook, Cookies & Cream: Hundreds of Ways to Make the Perfect Ice Cream Sandwich.
- I’ve used this machine literally hundreds of times and it’s worked without fail.
- Unless you have a self-freezing ice cream machine, make sure your ice cream machine’s freezer bowl is thoroughly chilled according to the manufacturer’s directions. If it’s not cold enough, you may end up with liquid even after 30 minutes of churning.
- Check out my article for How to Use an Ice Cream Maker (and which is best to buy!) HERE.
How to Store Homemade Ice Cream so it Stays Smooth
- Once the ice cream is churned, place it in an airtight container (I love this 1-quart ice cream tub, or this 1.5-quart ice cream tub), pressing plastic wrap against the surface to avoid having any ice crystals form.
- For best results, freeze until it is firm, at least 2 hours. The longer you freeze, the more time the flavors will have to ripen.
- If you have an issue with ice cream hardening, try adding up to 3 tablespoons of alcohol during the last few minutes of churning. This works since alcohol doesn’t freeze.
- Vodka works well for vanilla ice cream.
- For other ice cream flavors, liqueur products like kirsch not only enhance taste but also maintain that creamy texture.
- If you prefer not to use alcohol, adding a tablespoon of corn syrup can also help to prevent the ice cream from crystallizing.
How to Perfectly Scoop and Serve Ice Cream
- Allow the ice cream to soften by placing it in the fridge 30 minutes before serving. This allows it to soften evenly as opposed to letting it sit at room temperature where it’ll soften most at the edges and remain hard at the center of the container.
- Next, get a good quality ice cream scoop like this OXO one or this Zeroll one. It makes a huge difference! Make sure it’s totally dry before using.