A few weeks ago I started on a mission to find my favorite vanilla extract. What I’ve learned is that vanilla is like wine. It’s tough to find one favorite, because different vanillas go better with different things. For instance, Mexican vanilla might be better in certain cookies, while Indonesian vanilla bean adds nice bit of “burnt” flavor to vanilla ice cream. Madagascar vanilla is good in pretty much anything that is supposed to be “vanilla”, while Tahitian vanilla goes well with caramel. It’s also great in mixed drinks.
The point is, after you start tasting a variety of different vanillas, you will never be comfortable with the old term “plain vanilla”.
So this post is a) an excuse to show you a photo of my vanilla collection and find out if you have any favorites and b) share a terrific vanilla gelato recipe that was recommended a while back by a reader.
Originally from The Ciao Bella Book of Gelato and Sorbetto: Bold, Fresh Flavors to Make at Home, it’s fantastic if you like full flavored vanilla ice cream that is not quite as fatty as other homemade ice cream recipes. Oh, it’s still rich – just not over-the-top butter fat rich. It has more milk than cream, yet is as smooth and satisfying. I also discovered that it didn’t get rock hard in the freezer like some other homemade vanilla ice creams. This was a definite plus in my book, because I get really irritated with hard or icy textured ice cream. Ick.
The downside of this recipe is it’s not quite as velvety as some of the fattier ice creams, but it’s not icy, either (see update!). Or at least it shouldn’t be. And finally, it is not too eggy. I’ve seen some gelato recipes similar to this one with more egg yolks. I wouldn’t use any more than four.
Vanilla Bean Paste and Update
I still love this recipe. It’s less fatty tasting than some richer ice creams due to the higher proportion of milk than cream. I usually do not have a fresh vanilla bean, but I almost always have vanilla bean paste. For the last batch, I used half a tablespoon of a brand called Heilala.
Update and Some Tricks
After all these years I still love this recipe. Maybe because it has just the right number of egg yolks and I like that it has more milk than cream. I recently tried something new which I think made the gelato even better. Instead of 2 cups milk and 1 cup of cream I used 1 cup of evaporated milk, 1 cup whole milk and 1 cup of cream. This made it a little smoother and richer textured without tasting to fatty. But 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of cream still works just fine.
Another little trick is to add 1 teaspoon of arrowroot to the cold milk & cream mixture before heating. Arrowroot doesn’t actually have to be heated to activate its thickening power, but in this case I added it with the milk mixture and it may have helped the texture a little. Jury is still out on that one, because this recipe is good without it, too.
- 2 cups whole milk (460 grams) — I weigh liquids, so not ml
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream (230 grams)
- 1/2 of a vanilla bean (not required) smokier bean
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar (130 grams)
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon really good quality vanilla extract or 1/2 tablespoon if you didn't use the bean
- In a saucepan, combine the milk and cream. Scrape in the vanilla bean and throw in the whole pod. Heat over medium heat, stirring often, until mixture is 170 degrees F. Remove from heat and let vanilla bean steep for 20 minutes. Strain out any vanilla bits if you like.
- In a mixing bowl, mix the egg yolks with the sugar and salt.
- Put the saucepan with the milk mixture back on the stove and heat again to 170 degrees F. Slowly pour about half the hot milk mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly, then pour it all back into the saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture reaches 185F.
- Remove from heat and strain into a bowl or for faster cooling, a rectangular casserole dish. Let cool for about five minutes, then stir in the vanilla extract.
- Let cool slightly at room temperature and then chill thoroughly (several hours).
- Pour into ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s direction. Freeze for another hour or so before serving.
Just made this today….addicting flavor!!! I did add 1 t of banana extract instead of vanilla. Easy to make too!!! Plus the custard before freezing is also addicting.
Glad you liked it, Jen!
I made this last night and it turned out really well. I brought some in to work today and everyone liked it, but my boss said, “Where’s the hot fudge?”
What an informative post and comments. Feel like I’ve learned so much. Have lived in Arizona nearly 15 years and had no previous knowledge of AZ Vanilla. How sad is that? I’m a simplifier by nature. If you could have only ONE vanilla what would you choose?
Thanks so much.
I bet the gelato would be good with some of that root beer magic shell! Or maybe in a root beer float?
Have you ever purchased the Dancy clear vanilla? I have, and I think it really tastes very coconut-y. I ended up using it only in recipes that had coconut, because the taste was so strong.
Although I am a diehard chocoholic, I will always swoon for the pure taste of anything vanilla! Good vanilla cake is the best, and can be tricky to turn out both moist and flavorful. And where would practically any cookie be without the addition of this extract? I was just reading my latest Penzeys catalog today, and planning which vanilla I could realistically justify purchasing. (Going with the Double-Strength)
Mmm, great post! Happy to see the gelato recipe. Irks me to no end to have rock hard homemade ice cream. I’ll have to try this. I never go all out on fancy vanillas, but just because I’m too poor. Haha. I most often use a Mexican vanilla.
You must have quite the collections of things—
fine wine 😉
My favorites have already been covered. Love this post and the comments.
KAnn, yes! Love her book.
Angela, if you have any recommendations outside of what’s been mentioned, let me know.
Martha, thanks for mentioning Arizona vanilla. I’m going to order some of their Mexican vanilla right now.
Martha in KS
I make my own vanilla – both with vodka & rum. I buy bulk beans thru Arizona Vanilla. They’re offering free shipping this month.
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I didn’t have a full appreciation of the range of vanilla until I got married to a man who cannot eat chocolate. I have to say that now I really prefer the depth of vanilla, and the different flavors and aromas of the various origins. Love this post.
I am known to open the cupboard and open a bottle of vanilla just to smell it! Anna, do you have Lisa Yockelson’s Baking by Flavor?
Nora, the Nielsen-Massey paste is awesome! Love it. I usually buy it during the holidays. Beverly, thanks for reminding me about Trader Joe’s vanilla. TJ’s is coming to Austin soon, so that will be one of the first things I buy.
You might want to add Trader Joe’s Vanilla to your collection. It is very fragrant and a bit syrup-like. It resembles a combination of Nielsen-Massey Vanilla paste (another favorite in my Vanilla Collection) and the same Mexican Vanilla you picture which I also like! BTW I found on ebay a one quart bottle of Nielsen-Massey for $64; sounds like a lot of money, but divided up with a friend or two, it is quite a savings compared to small bottles elsewhere. I love good vanilla:-)
I like Nielsen-macey Madagascar vanilla bean paste. Use it for everything… From adding to plain Greek yogurt, to putting in steel cut oats, to using in everything I bake. I tried going back to vanilla extract and really missed the richness of the vanilla bean paste (btw… I get it from amazon)
Rebecca, I haven’t made homemade vanilla in ages. I noticed Beanilla sold lots of little vials and bottles to put it in.
Lisa, I’ve never heard of Sonoma Syrup. Thanks for the tip!
My absolute favorite vanilla is Sonoma Syrup Vanilla Bean Crush. Absolutely loaded with vanilla beans, and really amazing vanilla flavor. A little goes a long way, which to me justifies the cost. I discovered it through King Arthur Flour.
I like homemade vanilla for most cookie recipes. For custards and plain desserts like cheesecake or ice cream I like Beanilla if I don’t have a vanilla bean to use. I like the Mexican vanilla in caramels. You really can’t have too many vanillas to play with!
Penzey’s makes great vanilla, but it’s been a while since I’ve had any. I’ll pick some up this weekend. Thanks for the reminder! I love their cocoa powder, too.
Yum! That gelato looks mighty good, especially since it feels like summer here (Boston).
I really like Penzy’s double strength vanilla. I don’t cut the amount in the recipe in half, though. I use the full amount of the double-strength. They put a vanilla bean in the big bottle, and when the vanilla is gone, you can use the bean. It’s kind of expensive, but I feel that it is worth the price. You can mail order it if you don’t have a store nearby.