We’ve been enjoying lots of no-churn ice cream recipes this summer. They’re quick and easy, always smooth and creamy, and they don’t require an ice cream maker. But I do have an ice cream maker that still deserves to be used, and my husband prefers the richness of a slowly churned, egg-based frozen custard. So to please him, I made this Brown Sugar and Bourbon Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. The flavor in this ice cream is incredible, with the complementary notes of vanilla bean, molasses from the brown sugar, and of course, the bourbon.
In my opinion, the gold standard of vanilla ice cream is vanilla bean ice cream. Those little black specks of vanilla bean are everything, and once you taste how much flavor they add, you’ll never be able to back to making or buying plain vanilla ice cream.
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So What’s the Difference Between Ice Cream and Frozen Custard
Ice cream is made from milk, cream, or a combination of the two. In the case of no churn ice cream recipes, freshly whipped cream is folded into sweetened condensed milk, along with any other flavorings or add-ins for a very light, creamy and fluffy ice cream.
Frozen custard is made from milk, cream and egg yolks. It must contain a minimum of 1.4% egg yolks, by weight, to actually be considered frozen custard by the FDA. The egg yolks make for a richer, more luscious mouthfeel.
It’s not just the ingredients, though, but also how they are churned. Professional frozen custard machines churn as little air as possible into the ice cream base while freezing it. With less air, the texture is more dense and luxurious.
Whole Milk + Heavy Whipping Cream.
I usually use equal parts of milk and cream, although occasionally I’ll vary the ratios depending on the recipe. But for most of my frozen custard recipes, I start with 2 cups of whole milk and 2 cups of heavy whipping cream for a perfectly creamy texture.
In today’s recipe, in addition to granulated sugar I also used dark brown sugar. The dark brown sugar adds a little deeper flavor, as well as the off-white color. But you certainly can use just granulated sugar for a lighter color. For my ratio of 4 cups of milk/cream, I like to use 3/4 cup of sugar, but if you like your ice cream a little sweeter, you can add up to 1 cup of sugar. Besides sweetening ice cream, sugar also keeps it smooth. The reason sorbets are so smooth, even without any fat or dairy, is from their high ratio of sugar.
The egg yolks are what gives the ice cream “body”. They make the ice cream, or frozen custard, more dense with a luxurious texture and mouthfeel. I usually use 5 egg yolks for 1 batch of ice cream, but some people use even more for a richer custard.
If you’ve never used a fresh vanilla bean, you’re in for a treat. The fragrance is incredible. To use the seeds inside, you need to place the bean in a cutting board. Use the tip of a knife to score the bean lengthwise so you can split it open. Then, use the blade of the knife to scrape all the seeds out. Alternatively, you can use 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste, an ingredient that I absolutely love. It’s a little cheaper than using vanilla beans, and the flavor is amazing.
Now, vanilla beans are expensive, as is pure vanilla extract these days with the Madagascar vanilla crisis the last couple of years. So please don’t throw that bean pod away once you use the seeds! You can bury it in a jar of sugar to infuse the sugar with vanilla flavor, or make your own vanilla extract. But my personal favorite, is simply to dry the bean for a couple of days, then grind it up in my spice grinder. Then I use the ground up bits in my cakes and other baked goods, exactly as I would use the seeds. Thrifty, right?
A pinch of coarse Kosher salt balances the sugar, and enhances the flavor of the ice cream. I always add salt to my dessert recipes.
Alcohol is an ingredient that you will often find in homemade ice cream. The reason for this, besides the flavor, is that alcohol lowers the freezing point of the custard. So as it’s churned and the custard freezes, the alcohol helps to prevent the formation of ice crystals which will make your ice cream icy instead of creamy. Commercially made ice creams contain other ingredients, such as guar gum, to perform this function and enhance the viscosity of the ice cream.
How to Make Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Cook the Custard.
The process is simple. First, the custard needs to be cooked on the stove, just to dissolve the sugar and warm the egg yolks. While whisking constantly, cook the milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar and salt, over medium heat, just until the custard is hot and thick enough to coat the back of a spatula.
After cooking, the custard needs to be chilled. There are two reasons for chilling your custard, prior to churning it. If you pour hot custard into your ice cream maker, it could warm up the ice cream maker too much so that it doesn’t churn properly, so you need to pour cold custard into your ice cream maker. Also, allowing the custard to rest and chill lets the flavors mingle and develop. I usually cook my custard at night and let it chill in the fridge overnight. Then I churn my ice cream first thing the next morning, so it will be frozen and ready to serve by that night.
Churn into Ice Cream.
Right before churning is usually when I add the alcohol, although you can certainly stir it in after cooking your custard, once you’ve removed it from the heat. I use the Kitchen Aid Ice Cream Maker Attachment, and I love it. I usually just keep the bowl in my freezer so that it’s ready to go whenever I want to churn some homemade ice cream. Whatever ice cream maker you have, just be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for how to churn your ice cream.
After churning, your ice cream will be a creamy, soft-serve consistency, and it will need to be frozen for at least 6-8 hours until firm. Use a lidded ice cream container to freeze your ice cream in. I use these cute ice cream tubs – I have them with a few different colored lids, they hold 1 quart each, and I just love them. And then, your patience will be rewarded with the most luxurious, delicious ice cream you can imagine.
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Brown Sugar and Bourbon Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
- Ice Cream Maker
- 5 large egg yolks
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped (or 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste)
- ⅛ tsp coarse Kosher salt
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream,
- 1 tbsp good-quality bourbon or whiskey
- In a large saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, brown sugar and granulated sugar for about 1 minute, until smooth and slightly lightened in color.
- Whisk in the vanilla bean seeds and the salt, then the milk and the cream.
- Over medium heat, cook the custard while stirring constantly with a spatula, until very hot and the custard has thickened just enough to coat the spatula.
- Remove from the heat. Pour into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap resting right against the surface of the custard, and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, preferably overnight to really let the flavors intensify.
- Stir the bourbon into the chilled custard.
- Churn the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions, then transfer to a lidded ice cream container and freeze until firm, about 6 hours.