So Basic

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In my mind, there are two main types of ice cream bases — those that use egg yolks, and those that don’t (which are based solely in milk and cream). I use the egg yolk version most often. It creates the typical mouth feel we associate with ice cream. Unctuous without greasiness, it’s that smooth sensation you remember whenever you hear the phrase “cookies and cream.”

The downside of yolk-based ice cream is that the flavors you add won’t come through as cleanly as they would with just a milk/cream base. I actually don’t think this is a problem. If you use fresh ingredients for flavoring — spices, nuts, and everything else — I don’t think this is much of an issue. I find dairy-only bases to be too icy and harsh for proper mouthfeel. They lack the proper viscosity.

I do use dairy-only bases for fruit-centric ice creams (because fruit + yolks = yuck), and for alcoholic ice creams to help with the freezing. We’ll discuss those later. But pretty much everything else I do with the base below.

So, yolks, sugar, milk, and cream. Plus a bit of salt and vanilla. In what proportions?

I respect Melissa Clark of the New York Times a lot, but when she published a recipe in 2014 calling for six yolks to three cups of dairy I was not on board. I think that’s an insane number of yolks. I use three yolks and I think that’s enough. Plus, if you use six egg yolks, then you’ll have six egg whites left over. I can barely get rid of three by making meringues or spicing nuts.

I usually use two cups of cream, two cups of milk, three egg yolks, and ¾ cup of sugar. I tend to use less sugar than most recipes since, despite having a sweet tooth, I find many ice creams too cloying. Using ¾ cup helps with that, but I wouldn’t go much below that.

Also. This is ice cream. It is inherently decadent. You will find that, if you become as much of an ice cream freak as I am, you almost never want to eat it. So, don’t worry about the health issues too much, and don’t feel about using cream, milk, and sugar.

Don’t use half and half. Don’t use non-fat milk. And if you try to use agave or Splenda or something else like that I will come find you and you will not like my publicly berating you. This is not the kind of dessert you want to cut corners on. If you want a healthy frozen dessert, stick to sorbet (which we’ll discuss next time).

 

Custard Base

2 cups cream

2 cups whole milk

¾ cup sugar

3 egg yolks

½ teaspoon table salt

½ teaspoon vanilla extract (or half a vanilla bean)

 

Set aside a large bowl with one cup milk at the bottom, and position a strainer above.

Whisk to combine 2 cups cream, 1 cup milk, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a medium pot. If using a vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scrape out the seeds from each half with a paring knife, putting the seeds into the mixture and then placing the halves of the bean into the mixture. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, but don’t let it boil.

Whisk three egg yolks in a medium bowl. It’s OK if there are some traces of egg white — no need to be a perfectionist — but try to minimize that.

When the dairy mixture is hot but not yet simmering (honestly, if it starts to simmer a little, you’ll be OK), remove from heat. Slowly ladle about a cup into the egg yolks, whisking with one hand while ladling with the other. This is tempering the egg yolks — you can’t just dump them into the pot, or they’ll scramble. Thinning the yolks with a portion of the milk mixture prevents this.

Once complete, transfer the yolk mixture to the pot, and then return to medium heat. Stir the mixture with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom at times. Once the custard is thick enough to slightly coat the back of the spatula (another sign: you will start to notice that scraping the bottom of the pot encounters some solids), remove from heat and pour through the strainer. If you were using the vanilla bean, discard the pod halves.*

I whisk the base as it strains to speed up the process a bit — this is optional. Wash the whisk off. Once the base has strained, whisk the base with the cup of milk that’s at the bottom until combined.

Traditionally, you then place the large bowl in an ice bath to cool it down to room temperature. I will admit that I’m too lazy to do this most of the time (usually, I just put it on a trivet to cool, but it is a good idea). Either way, cool for half an hour. Then, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a lid and refrigerate for at least two hours before churning.

 

* One fun thing to do with the pod halves is to rinse them off and pat them dry. Then, place them in a sugar jar and submerge with sugar. The vanilla flavor will slowly infuse the sugar, which adds a nice undertone to the sugar.

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