Ice Cream Base

I always make a big batch of vanilla ice cream and then mash other ingredients into it to create new flavors. This way I can tailor the ice cream to the dessert I am serving or the mood I am in. I start with a really great custard base, which is lusciously smooth, dense and has a silky texture. The flavor should be rich, but not too buttery (greasy) and I always start my "French custard" ice cream base with vanilla bean - there really isn't a flavor that it doesn't complement.
  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 21 hr
  • Prep: 30 min
  • Inactive: 20 hr
  • Cook: 30 min
  • Yield: Makes about 1 quart
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2 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 large vanilla bean, scraped

1 cup sugar

10 egg yolks

Optional mix-ins:

1 cup pecan pieces, lightly toasted and cooled, plus 1/4 cup of maple syrup to drizzle over the ice cream

1 cup dried cherries soaked in 2 tablespoons brandy

1 cup ganache (1/2 cup heavy cream brought to a simmer, add 4 ounces finely chopped semisweet chocolate and gently stir until smooth)


  1. To make the vanilla ice cream base: Heat the heavy cream, milk, vanilla bean and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. The longer you let this mixture sit, the stronger the vanilla flavor will be. I often bring the mixture to a simmer, turn off the heat and let it steep for an hour or so. Before you continue with the recipe, you will need to bring it back to a simmer.
  2. Whisk together the yolks in a medium-size bowl. Remove the cream mixture from the heat and whisk a small amount of the cream into the egg mixture. Add enough cream to warm the eggs.
  3. Once the eggs are warm, add them back into the pot of remaining cream. Use a rubber spatula to gently stir the custard over low heat. Continue stirring until the mixture starts to thicken.
  4. When the custard seems to be getting thicker, lift the rubber spatula and run your finger through the custard. It is done when the custard clings to the spatula.
  5. Pass the custard through a fine mesh strainer or chinois into a shallow dish. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and immediately place in the refrigerator. Allow the custard to "ripen" for 6 to 12 hours for the best result. If you are in a rush, at least make sure the custard is thoroughly chilled. As you can see above, the custard will be quite thick once it has chilled. Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Freeze a bowl and have it ready for the freshly made ice cream. Immediately freeze the ice cream to harden.
  6. Once your vanilla ice cream is done you can have fun mashing other ingredients into it. In this bowl I have added toasted pecans and a drizzle of maple syrup. You can do this to the entire batch or just an individual bowl.
  7. I also like to soak dried cherries in brandy during the time it takes to freeze the ice cream.
  8. Then I strained the excess liquid off of the cherries and mixed them into the ice cream.
  9. Spread the top of the ice cream with a thin layer of chocolate ganache. As you scoop the ice cream out of the bowl the ganache will swirl into the ice cream - and add a wonderful chocolate-fudge flavor.