Thursday, May 1, 2008

Vanilla Ice Cream

The early part of this little project has been slowly turning into dessert city. Already, I've conquered chocolate ice cream and pear sorbet, vanilla macaroons (not really), and vanilla macaroons (serious conquering). That's mostly because they're easy to pull off on a weeknight, which is exactly what happened with this vanilla ice cream. After this I'll probably have to go on a dessert hiatus for a little while. A little warning ahead of time, this post is a little short on pictures. Ice cream making isn't exactly exciting art, so you'll be ok, right?

Now this shouldn't come as a surprise, but vanilla ice cream is basically just chocolate ice cream, sans the chocolate. What we've got here is cream and milk (more on this in a bit), sugar, vanilla bean, and egg yolks. If you're French this is called creme anglaise. If you're me it's vanilla sauce.

Ok, it's been a bit, so here's a somewhat foreshadowing sidebar about the cream and milk. The Bouchon, recipes call for heavy cream and whole milk. This is almost definitely the reason why the chocolate ice cream felt like heaven-in-the-mouth. The problem here is that heaven-in-the-mouth is pretty terrible for you. Here's what I could find out about the relative fat contents of different varieties of milk:
  • Fat Free (skim) Milk - Take a guess
  • 2% Milk - Take another guess
  • Whole Milk - 3.5% fat
  • Light Cream - >30% fat
  • Heavy Cream - > 36% fat
So if the recipe calls for equal parts of heavy cream and whole milk (it does), you'd end up with a mixture that was around 20% fat. That's heaven in-the-mouth. If you replace the heavy cream with light cream, you're down to about 17% fat. And if you then replace the whole milk with skim milk, you'll end up with iced water instead of iced cream. Not really, but you'll be down to around 15% fat. There are other combinations available that will get you in between 15 and 20%. The choice of cream (heavy or light) is more of a driver than the milk choice, so that should be taken into consideration. As I mentioned, I used heavy cream and whole milk for the chocolate ice cream. In an attempt to be more healthy, I jumped to the light cream and skim milk solution. I would not recommend this. The (spoiler!) ice cream turned out to be crystally, kind of like old ice cream gets. I guess next time I'll try the middle road and use light cream and whole milk or heavy cream and skim milk. If that doesn't work out then I'll just exercise more. Ok, back to the recipe.

I combined the cream, milk, and vanilla bean, and half of the sugar in a saucepan. Upon reaching a simmer, the lid went on and I let it sit for 30 minutes.

After the thirty minutes, I reheated the custard just until it was warm. Meanwhile, I setup an ice bath and whisked the egg yolks with the rest of the sugar. Once they were mixed up pretty well, I added just a bit of the warm custard to the egg mixture to temper it, then combined it all in the saucepan and cooked it over low heat for a few minutes to thicken it up. All of the custard went into the ice bath to cool it down quickly.

If you're like me, you usually manage to do exactly the opposite of what the tempering is supposed to do; that is make some scrambled eggs when you combine everything. It turned out I did pretty well this time around, but I strained the custard a couple of times anyway. Because really, who wants scrambled eggs in their ice cream? I'd learned from the previous two frozen dessert recipes that now is a good time to choose a container that will allow for easy pouring later, so out came the pitcher.

The finished custard spent the night in the refrigerator and then made the trip to the ice cream maker. 15 minutes later it was time for some soft serve vanilla. Two hours after that it was time for some fully frozen ice cream. One note here, you'll want to make sure that the dish you put the soft serve into is already very cold. I froze the first bowl I used for a couple of hours, and that ice cream turned out great. A second bowl, which I hadn't planned on needing, melted the ice cream before it hardened. That really messed things up. We enjoyed the finished ice cream both in sundae form (with some junk fudge sauce infused with rose and tea, I highly don't recommend it) and as part of root beer floats.

It was very good flavor-wise, but the texture wasn't great. I blame that on the missing fat I talked about above. I think that's part of the reason that the float was so good, you kind of lose out on the texture experience and focus mainly on the vanilla flavor. Regardless of any texture issues the entire 1.5 quarts or so disappeared in about three days, so it must of been at least ok.

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