Two of Mama’s favorite things to make are angel food cake and challah bread.
Luckily, they have a symbiotic relationship (or so Mama tells me), in that angel food cake needs egg whites, while challah calls for egg yolks. But they don’t require equal amounts of divided eggs. You’re going to have about half a dozen leftover yolks, which is just enough to make…
You probably think that I don’t eat a whole lot of this delicacy. And you would be wrong. Well, at least by Mama’s standards, I do eat a lot of ice cream. (I could see eating it a couple more times a week, but that plea tends to fall on deaf ears…) But I was amazed when Mama finally showed me how to make ice cream. She couldn’t have gotten me out of the kitchen had she tried.
Making ice cream is like magic. First it’s cold, then it’s hot, then it’s cold again. Some folks might not consider this method very easy. And while it’s certainly true that not all ice creams are cooked first, cooking the base makes such a creamy difference (it’s also what makes it French). Besides, wouldn’t you rather eat cooked egg yolks?
Actually, probably the most difficult thing involved is splitting and scraping the vanilla bean. Mama showed me how to do it. Carefully cut it in half the long way, then hold onto one end with your finger pressed onto it. (If you need the whole pod, don’t cut all the way through so that you separate the whole bean; if you do, just do the next step with each half.) With the other hand, take the blade of your knife (either edge), and run it down the cut you just made, so you’re flattening the bean and scraping the seeds from inside it at the same time.
Okay, maybe this ice cream is a bit more complicated than scraping a vanilla bean, but when you taste it, you won’t even care.
French Vanilla Ice Cream
(that will make you forget all your cares)
2 cups organic heavy cream
1/2 cup organic half and half
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
5-6 organic egg yolks (1/2 cup)
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream, half and half, sugar, and vanilla bean (pod and seeds) just to a boil.
Meanwhile, set yolks in a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients and whisk gently to break them up. Once the cream is hot, pour a little bit (about 1/2 cup) into the egg yolks while whisking. (Mama says if you’re using a bowl that skids while you’re whisking, put a damp towel or washcloth beneath it.) Then slowly add the remaining cream to the yolks, whisking constantly. Mama calls this tempering and says that without it, the eggs would coagulate. I say the word “coagulate” is almost as bad as the word “moist.”
Now you can do either of two things: You can pour everything back into the saucepan and cook it over low heat, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom of the saucepan), until it reaches 170˚F, which is how hot you want your eggs to be to render them safe. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can tell when it’s ready because it coats the back of a wooden spoon and when you run a finger down the back of the spoon it creates a channel that the cream doesn’t run into. This will take about 10 minutes. If you’re worried that you might scramble your eggs—they get pretty close if your heat is too high or you don’t keep stirring—then keep your cream mixture in the bowl and set it over a pot of simmering water (the water should not touch the bowl).
Et voilà: You have your custard base for ice cream. (Aren’t you even a little excited?) Now strain it into a clean bowl. This will collect all the stray bits of coagulated egg and vanilla bean. (Rinse off that bean and stick it in jar of sugar for vanilla sugar!) From here, let it cool a bit, then put it in the fridge to cool completely. If you’re in a bit of a rush, have your clean bowl (the one that’s going to receive the strained custard) sitting in a larger bowl filled with ice and a bit of water, and be sure to stir the custard periodically as it cools.
Pour your cold custard into an ice cream maker and process and freeze according to directions. (I’m just a toddler. You can’t expect me to explain everything.) If you want to add flavors, such as nuts or chocolate chips or bits of fruit, wait until the ice cream is nearly done churning before doing so.
Once it’s churned, stick it in the freezer, and just try not to think about it all the time. This recipe makes about a pint of ice cream, but it can easily be doubled…you know, in case you didn’t make challah bread after your angel food cake.
Note: Mama says you can subtly change the flavor of the custard base by steeping herbs (such as mint or chamomile) in the cream as it heats. One of her favorite blends is steeping lavender flowers in the cream, then adding honey during the final cooking phase or churning phase (depending on desired texture).