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~ My Old-Fashioned Vanilla-Custard Ice-Cream Base ~

IMG_9069During June, July and August, we will all most likely eat more ice cream than we did during the past nine months.  In my kitchen, during the next three months, I'll be making more than I did during the past nine too.  Whatever flavor I've got churning, vanilla, chocolate or strawberry, everyone I know (myself included) will generically refer to it as ice cream.  That said, what I'll technically be making is frozen custard, and, if you make homemade ice cream, I'm betting you're most likely making old-fashioned frozen custard (or a version of it), too.  Read on.

The difference between ice cream & frozen custard: 


IMG_4242Store-bought ice cream is made from milk or skim milk, or a combination of milk or skim milk with a bit of cream added, corn syrup or sugar, and flavorings.  Egg yolks are sometimes added, but are not required.  Ice cream is made in a machine that pumps lots of air into it while it churns, which yields a light mouthfeel.  It is federally defined as:  a frozen dessert containing 10% milk fat. That said, the old-fashioned simplicity of making home-churned ice cream has been so convoluted by high-tech machinery (to insure its consistent, signature, hand-scoop-able texture), not to mention the additives, preservatives and stabilizers (for a long and palatable shelf life in the freezer), one couldn't reproduce it adequately in the home kitchen, even if one was inclined to try.

IMG_4284Frozen custard is made from whole milk, or a combination of milk and cream, egg yolks, sugar and flavorings.  Egg-yolks are a requirement, and regulations require 1.4% egg yolks by weight.  The higher fat content (from milk and/or cream) gives it a rich, luxurious taste.  Whether made in a hand-crank or commercial machine, frozen custard is churned at a slow pace, to incorporate little air, giving it its dense texture.  Because it melts almost on contact with the lips (similar to soft serve ice cream), it is best served immediately, directly from the machine it was made in.

Frozen-custard and ice-cream  recipes are not created equal.  Sometimes the consistency is too soft, sometimes its too dense, or worse, sometimes it's full of nasty ice crystals.  Some recipes are cloyingly sweet, and other times, there's simply not enough flavoring added.  Frozen custard and ice-cream are both emulsions with two components (fat and water) that need lots of encouragement to meld, by adding components that absorb water (sugar, starch and protein).

A bit of rich & creamy frozen-custard history:

IMG_4246Frozen custard was invented on Coney Island, NY, in 1919.  Two ice-cream venders, Archie and Elton Kohr, discovered that when they added egg yolks to their home-made ice-cream base, they produced a richer, creamier, smoother ice cream.  On the first weekend they sold 18,460 cones. They had invented the precursor to our present-day soft-serve ice cream, with one exception: little air was pumped into their product.  As described above, true frozen custard is quite dense.  The mixture enters a refrigerated tube, and, as it freezes, blades scrape the frozen product from the sides of the barrel walls.  Unlike hand-scooped ice cream, the mixture stays in the machine, being discharged directly into cones or cups, on an as-needed basis, to be served immediately.

IMG_8947For my easy-to-make, foolproof vanilla-flavored custard-base:

2  cups heavy cream

2  cups whole milk

2  tablespoons pure vanilla extract*

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

8  large egg yolks

1 1/4  cups granulated sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

*Note:  To make vanilla-bean vanilla-custard ice-cream base, use 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste (equivalent to the seeds from 1 vanilla bean). 

IMG_8948 IMG_8948 IMG_8948~ Step 1.  Place cream, 1 1/2 cups of the milk and vanilla extract in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop. In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup milk and cornstarch.  Set aside.

IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8967 IMG_8967 IMG_8967~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, use the fork to whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt. Add the egg yolk mixture to the 2-cup container with the milk/cornstarch mixture.  Use the fork to vigorously combine the two mixtures.  Set aside.

IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974~Step 3.  Heat the saucepan of milk mixture on the stovetop over medium heat.  Heat the mixture until almost steaming (not full-steaming, simmering or boiling), whisking occasionally, about 2-3 minutes.  Adjust heat to low.  While whisking constantly, gradually and in a slow steady stream, whisk the egg yolk/sugar/milk/cornstarch mixture into the almost-steaming milk mixture.  Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, about 2-3 minutes.  In the beginning, mixture will be foamy on top.  As foam subsides and when mixture begins to thicken, switch from whisk to a large spoon to stir.  Continue to cook gently until custard base is simmering gently, nicely-thickened, silky-smooth and ribbon like, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_9003 IMG_9003~ Step 4.  Remove saucepan from heat and immediately transfer custard base to a 2-quart food storage container.  Cover the surface of the custard base with a layer of plastic wrap, meaning: don't cover the container, lay the plastic directly on the surface of the custard (to prevent a rubbery skin from forming on the top).  Cool for 1-2 hours prior to putting the lid on the container and refrigerating for several hours to overnight.

IMG_9012 IMG_9013 IMG_9013 IMG_9013~Step 5.  From here forward, for the rest of this recipe, follow the directions that came with your ice-cream maker.  Because mine has a built-in freezing system, I pour all of the cold custard base into the stainless steel work bowl (which has been pre-chilled by the machine for me).  The lid goes on the work bowl and the machine gets turned on to churn for 1 hour - 1 hour, 10 minutes.

Scoop into a pretty bowl or favorite ice-cream cone...

IMG_9063... & enjoy your journey back to a kinder, gentler time:

IMG_9086My Old-Fashioned Vanilla-Custard Ice Cream Base:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 quarts vanilla-flavored frozen custard.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; 4-quart saucepan; whisk; large spoon; 2-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; plastic wrap; ice-cream maker; ice-cream scoop

IMG_9088Cook's Note:  In order to keep fresh fruit (which is mostly water) from turning into fruity bits and clumps of rock-hard ice cubes, before adding it to the churning ice-cream base, it needs to be cooked in a manner that removes some of its water content and concentrates its flavor -- this is usually achieved by briefly simmering on the stovetop, or sometimes roasting in the oven.     To learn more, read my recipe for ~ Have a Blackberry Cobbler Ice-Cream Kind of Day ~.  Use the same recipe to make a peachy-keen cobbler version too.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)


Penny -- I was just thinking about you over the weekend (as I hadn't heard from you in a while). Hope all is well & you're enjoying your Summer. The only thing I can think of would be your Auntie used dark brown sugar (or even molasses) in place of some or all of the granulated sugar. It would give it a brownish-hue + a slightly molasses-y flavor -- I like the concept and my try it myself! Your PA friend, ~Mel.

I am so happy to see your custard ice cream recipe.
My mom made a great custard ice cream. But she said that in the "old" days her aunt made the world's best custard ice cream and that it was brownish looking. What do you think Auntie did to make it look like that?
I will try yours soon.
Your California friend,

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