Making ice cream using a sous vide machine is a complete game changer. Not only do you get perfectly cooked custard without the risk of curdled yolks, it also takes almost no work to achieve: no tempering, no patient stirring over low, low heat, nada. Just drop the bag in the water and wait, and you’ll have perfect results.
I can never get enough of homemade ice cream, so I’m including plenty of options in this chapter. Feel free to use this vanilla ice cream recipe as a blank canvas for all your ice cream–making endeavors. Vanilla does a great job of subtly enhancing the flavors of other complementary ingredients, but there are some instances where the flavors might clash. For this reason, I make vanilla an optional ingredient in the other ice cream recipes that follow. Other aromatic ingredients I like to use in lieu of vanilla are citrus zests; coffee beans; spices such as cardamom pods, ginger, cinnamon sticks, and coriander; and herbs such as mint, lemongrass, bay, basil, and thyme. Add these at your discretion when whipping up your own inspired creamy creations, and be sure to strain the custard to remove any coarse bits before pouring it into the ice cream machine.
You can also make any fruit-flavored ice cream by swapping out some of the milk for a juice or puree. Feeling boozy? Up to 2 tablespoons of nearly any alcoholic beverage can be stirred into the base after chilling. Some of my favorites are Cognac, amaro, Grand Marnier, amaretto, and crème de cassis. The only ingredient I wouldn’t recommend you omit is the honey (or corn syrup), as it greatly improves the texture of ice cream because the glucose helps prevent the formation of larger ice crystals, resulting in a smoother end product.
- Yield: 1 quart
- Total: 1 hour
- Active: 10 minutes
- 6 large egg yolks
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey or light corn syrup
- 1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise and seeds scraped, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 1½ cups whole milk
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
- The cooked base can be refrigerated for up to 1 week before freezing.
- Preheat your sous vide water bath to 85°C (185°F).
- In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, honey, vanilla seeds (or extract), and salt until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the milk and cream, then add the vanilla pod, if using.
- Pour this ice cream base into a gallon-size freezer-safe ziplock bag and seal using the water displacement or table-edge method (see page 12). I recommend the latter method for recipes with a relatively large amount of liquid.
- When the water reaches the target temperature, lower the bagged ice cream base into the water bath (making sure the bag is fully submerged) and cook for 1 hour.
- When the base is ready, transfer the bag to an ice water bath (see page 14) and chill for at least 45 minutes, or refrigerate the bag for at least 6 hours. Either way, the ice cream base must be fully chilled before freezing.
- When ready to freeze, pass the ice cream base, which has now thickened to a custard, through a sieve and remove the vanilla pod (if used). Freeze the custard base in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions or freeze without an ice cream machine as directed below.
- Transfer the ice cream to an airtight freezer-safe container and place in the freezer. Because it lacks the stabilizers used in many commercial varieties, the texture of homemade ice cream is best if stored for no more than 1 week.
How to freeze without an ice cream machine
- I learned this hack from the formidable food scientist Harold McGee. In a large container, mix together 1 pound salt and 3 quarts water, stirring until the salt dissolves. Split the brine equally between two new gallon-size ziplock bags. Lay the bags flat in the freezer and freeze overnight.
- The next day, lay a kitchen towel on a countertop and sandwich the bag of chilled ice cream custard base between the bags of brine that spent overnight the freezer. (The brine will be below 32°F, but the salt will prevent the water from forming ice crystals.)
- Cover with additional kitchen towels to insulate. Leave the covered bags on the counter for about 30 minutes, at which point the ice cream base should be frozen. Be sure to save the bags of brine in the freezer for future sous vide ice cream adventures! If desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight freezer-safe container for easier scooping.