Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vanilla Bean-Infused Ice Cream

I love ice cream.  I've hardly met a flavor I didn't like, and I'm always eager to try something new (I'm sure the local ice cream jockeys groan when they seem me coming, calculating the number of taster spoons I'll request before finally making my decision).  But if you ask me what my favorite flavor of ice cream is, I'll inevitably choose the one that most people find the most boring: vanilla.  There are just so many possibilities with this humble, unassuming flavor! My favorite application is a big scoop or two of frosty vanilla ice cream with something steamy and gooey and oh-so-chocolatey right out of the oven. 

But vanilla ice cream doesn't have to be humdrum, even on its own!  That's where the vanilla bean comes in.  Sure, all vanilla ice cream derives flavor from this little funky looking seed pod -- or at least, from some artificial approximation of it -- but when you make your ice cream fresh with real vanilla bean seeds added right in: mmmm. That's good ice cream, man. 

This recipe came of pure necessity. I needed ice cream, and I needed it now. On top of a hot brownie, if at all possible. But when I looked into my pantry I found only a bottle of vanilla extract (and not the kind that Ina Garten would approve of, unless she's recently started shopping at Kroger), and two sad, used, dried up vanilla beans. They had been in a ziploc bag for several months now, waiting for me to pop them into a container of sugar to make some, um, vanilla sugar. But that never happened, and they had reached such a state of sad shriveledness that I wondered if they could be saved. 

I decided I'd give it the ol' college try. There would be brownies, after all, and they deserved a cold, creamy friend to play with. Recipe and another photo after the jump! 

Vanilla Bean-Infused Ice Cream 

2 cups half and half (low fat/fat free works fine)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 vanilla beans, fresh or not-so-fresh
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (better is better)


In a medium saucepan, mix the half and half and sweetened condensed milk with a whisk until thoroughly combined. If using fresh vanilla beans, split the pods in half and scrape out the seeds with the tip of a knife, then add seeds and pods right into the milk mixture.  If using old pods, make sure they're cut in half and/or broken into smaller pieces before throwing it all into the milk mixture.  Don't worry about bits; you'll strain it out later.  

Heat the milk/vanilla bean mixture on low for at least 10-15 minutes, stirring well every few minutes.  Do not let the milk mixture simmer or come to a boil.  As the vanilla beans soften, more and more seed flecks will become visible in the milk mixture. Agitating the beans with stirring also helps break free more seeds. When you're satisfied with the quantity of seed flecks, remove the pan from heat and add in the vanilla extract for a little extract oomph, if desired.  Pour the mixture through a fine strainer/sieve into a heaf-proof bowl and cover with plastic wrap; chill thoroughly and freeze according to your ice cream maker's directions. 

Ta da! You  now have delicious vanilla bean ice cream, and you're a good person for reusing those sad old beans that probably should have been tossed out months ago. At least, that's what I told myself.  :)  

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