We, passionate bakers, all need to have a good vanilla ice cream recipe. One that our galettes, pies and crumbles can’t be without; one that makes a regular cake a dessert and turns seasonal fruit more appealing to kids.
Vanilla was never my first choice of ice cream flavour when I was a kid, I thought it to be ordinary. Pistachio was my favourite, it still is, and fruit sorbets were always exciting too. I truly started to appreciate how special it was when I got into making ice cream at home. And I came to understand that it was anything but ordinary. “Simple” was probably the right word for it and simple was beautiful, it was elegant and it was harmonious but not at all ordinary.
As ‘vanilla’ is the star ingredient here, I’d like to briefly talk about the crisis that’s been going on for the last couple of years. Vanilla, one of the most expensive spices in the world, only second to saffron, always had fluctuating prices but in the recent years we’ve seen it go up tenfolds. One of the reasons for high prices is it’s intensively involved methods of cultivation, it is hard work with very little pay back to the farmer. There was an over abundance of vanilla between 2005 and 2014, I remember that time really well as I was buying dozens and dozens at a time as the price of the bean was so low. At the time what I though was brilliant only meant that the farmers struggled even more to survive by groving vanilla beans. As a result most vanilla farmers burnt their vines to grow other things. Less vanilla production pushed the prices back up again and who benefitted from this, not the farmers I’m afraid. It’s the middlemen and investers who are making big bucks by holding beans off the market to force the prices up. And if you add to that the damage caused by the cyclone that Madagascar had back in March, leaving crops damaged and many people homeless, it’s no wonder the price of this luxury spice is at around 600$ per kilo.
This crisis is expected to go on for another few years, during which time it will become a challenge for artisan producers of baked goods, chocolate and health products to keep their prices steady. Some will try to switch to cheaper brands of vanilla or even worse, imitation, synthetic flavourings. Most of them won’t go back to using the real stuff even after the crisis is over. The risk with this is that if there is no more enough demand for this luxury spice it will face distinction. Bakers who know better and wouldn’t sacrifice the quality of their products will have to increase their prices.
Home bakers won’t be affected as much because of the little quantities used. I personally try to be sensible by switching to other flavours whenever I can, making my creme pat with lemon zest more often instead of using a whole bean each time I make a fruit tart or cream puffs etc. This makes a huge difference alone as I make gallons of creme pat a year : ) I save each and every empty vanilla pod to feed my bottle of 6 year old vanilla extract (very proud of my baby: ) ). What I’m trying to say is that we all have to hang in there and do our best to keep on using the real stuff. If we don’t help overcome the crises and stop demanding the best, natural beans we might end up kicking ourselves for it in a few years time.
I usually don’t prefer custard based ice creams and use corn starch as a thickener instead of egg yolks. This way I find the flavour shines through. In this recipe that I’ve been making for many years, originally adapted from Saveur, there is a single yolk added to the mix at the end. This helps a slightly richer, creamier result but can be omitted.
- 1½ cup cream (360 ml)
- 1½ cup milk (360 ml)
- 1 vanilla bean
- ½ cup sugar (100 gr)
- 3 heaping Tbs corn starch (45 gr)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1-2 tsp vanila extract
- 1-2 Tbs vodka (optional)
- Split the vanilla bean lenghtwise and scrape the seeds.
- Place cream, half the milk, vanilla seeds and the empty pod in a little saucepan and bring to boiling point on medium heat.
- In a medium sized bowl whisk the rest of the milk with sugar and starch. Add the slurry in to the heated milk and cream mixture off the heat.
- Place the saucepan back over medium heat and cook for 8-10 minutes until the mixture thickens and little bubbles appear around the edges.
- Whisk the egg yolk in a little bowl and pour ½ cup of the hot milk mixture into the yolk, whisking constantly. Add mixture back into the saucepan, stirring with a wooden spoon.
- Set aside to let cool, stirring often, add the vanilla extract and cover with plastic wrap.
- Refrigerate for 3-4 hours or overnight.
- Remove and discard vanilla bean, add the vodka if using.
- Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.
- Place in the freezer for a few hour and serve.
As alcohol doesn't freeze, a couple of Tbs of vodka will help achieve a scoopable texture after a short rest on the counter. You can use other liquors but I prefer Vodka for it's neutral taste.
Oh and do yourself a favour and have a little bowl of ice cream as soon as it is churned. There aren't many things in life better than freshly churned ice cream : )
Recipe adapted from Saveur.