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)
- ½ of a vanilla bean (not required) smokier bean
- 4 large egg yolks
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar (130 grams)
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon really good quality vanilla extract or ½ 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.