Good vanilla ice cream is a versatile classic. With this basic recipe, you can enjoy the simplicity of plain (yet fabulous!) vanilla ice cream or add whatever toppings or mix-ins that appeal to you. Vanilla ice cream is also the perfect complement to so many desserts, especially pies and cobblers "a la mode".
I adapted this recipe from my favorite ice cream cookbook, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home. Jeni originally had several hugely popular ice cream shops in Ohio; the mothership is in Columbus. Later they expanded to other states, and we are lucky to have one of her shops in St. Louis. Jeni's ice creams are simply the best, and in her cookbook she shares how we can replicate them at home. Instructions are provided for using Jeni's techniques for creating ice cream flavor combinations of your own. That's right up my alley. You can check out my recipe for Mango Ice Cream that begins with Jeni's vanilla base.
Uncommon ingredients, uncommonly delicious results
What's unique about Jeni's approach is some uncommon homemade ice cream ingredients (small amounts of cream cheese, corn starch, and corn syrup) that lead to an uncommonly smooth and creamy texture and rich flavor. At least they're uncommon to me--I'd never made ice cream that included those ingredients. Another surprise is achieving such rich flavor without eggs; this is not a custard-based recipe. Jeni uses these same base ingredients in every ice cream recipe in her book, even her frozen yogurt.
I've made many batches of this recipe for consistently smooth, creamy, delicious results every time. King-Man (the resident ice cream lover) can't get enough of this stuff.
You'll need an ice cream freezer. If you don't have one, here are two that I have and can recommend:
Step 1. Assemble the ingredients
3 ways to incorporate vanilla into the recipe:
Step 2. In a small bowl, whisk together the corn starch with some of the milk. Set that aside.
view on Amazon: small whisk
Step 3. In a 5 quart pan, combine the remaining ingredients, except the cream cheese. Add a vanilla pod and scraped-out beans, if using. Use medium-high heat to bring them to a rolling boil. (NOTE: A "rolling boil" means it is boiling/bubbling vigorously all around the surface, and you can't stir away the bubbling.) Boil for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 4. Remove from heat, and whisk in the corn starch/milk slurry.
Step 5. Return to heat and continue to stir for 1-2 minutes; it will thicken ever-so-slightly.
view on Amazon: 10" whisk
(If you're using a whole vanilla bean pod, remove the pod from the mixture and discard it now.)
Step 6. Add softened cream cheese to large bowl, stir with a rubber spatula, pressing it against the sides and bottom of the bowl until smooth and no lumps remain.
Step 7. Whisk 1/2 cup of the hot liquid into the cream cheese; whisk until smooth and no lumps are left before adding more liquid. Continue gradually adding and whisking hot liquid until all is combined and smooth.
Step 8. Cover and chill completely for 8 hours or overnight. (This base may be made and refrigerated up to 3 days ahead.)
view on Amazon: Mix-n-Measure bowl with lid
HOW TO QUICK CHILL MIXTURE TO MAKE ICE CREAM RIGHT AWAY. If you want to freeze the ice cream ASAP and avoid the overnight chilling time in the fridge, here's the way to chill the hot liquid quickly. Pour it into a 1-gallon ziploc freezer bag. I use a baggy holder rack to hold open the bag while I pour. Zip the bag shut--make sure there aren't any leaks.
Fill a large bowl 3/4 full with ice cubes and add water (it needs to be heavy on the ice cubes). Immerse the bag of hot liquid into the ice water. Chill it for approx. 30 minutes until the liquid is cold throughout, adding more ice cubes if needed.
Step 9. Time to freeze the ice cream. Follow the instructions for your ice cream maker. I removed my freezer bowl from the freezer (it had been there for the required 24 hours), inserted it into my machine, turned it on, and poured in the chilled ice cream mixture. view ice cream freezer on Amazon
In my machine, it takes about 25 minutes for the ice cream to freeze completely. You know it's ready when the ice cream is pulling away from the sides of the canister. The finished ice cream has a soft-serve consistency. It's smooth but slightly grainy at this point. The texture gets smoother/creamier/better when you put it in the freezer for a few hours.
Step 10. Transfer the ice cream to a container. Tap it on the counter to remove any bubbles and level it. Cover the surface with a piece of parchment paper (or use wax paper; but, don't use plastic wrap--it can stick in the folds of the ice cream and be hard to remove). Put an air-tight lid on it.
You can use any plastic container with a lid.
If you make ice cream frequently, I high recommend these insulated ice cream tubs, pictured below.
view on Amazon: insulated ice cream containers (I love these!)
Step 11. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer for at least 4 hours.
TO SERVE: When it's time to serve the ice cream, remove it from the freezer & peel off the parchment paper. If it's too hard to scoop, let it sit out for 5 or so minutes--that will soften it enough to be scoopable. Reapply the parchment paper to the top of any leftover ice cream before returning it to the freezer. (This keeps the ice cream fresh and free of ice crystals.)
Look at those tasty vanilla bean specks.
Try adding toppings. Here are two of my favorites (recipes in previous posts).
EASY FRUIT SAUCE TOPPINGS. These easy homemade fruit sauces make tasty ice cream toppings. They can be made with fresh or frozen fruit. Choose a favorite or make more than one and let people choose their topping. Vanilla ice cream and a variety of fruit sauces make a fun dessert buffet.
Make it a Yummy day!
Check out this easy chocolate ice cream recipe--no machine required!
Individual Chocolate Dream Ice Cream Cups
This updated post was originally published July 19, 2011.