Two thoughts struck me in the process of contemplating vanilla ice cream.
Firstly, that so much to do with cooking is about demystifying apparently complex techniques - sometimes because of splendid insights from others, and many times because you work out for yourself that actually a lot of what is published in recipe books is complete nonsense. So it was for me with roasting, and the discovery of Mrs Kafka......and with making pasta... and Gaston Le Notre and his techniques for puff and choux pastry....and so it is with the process of effortlessly producing rich and delicious ice cream.
When I first made ice cream, it seemed to be all about complicated temperature measurements at various different points along the way, and the absolute necessity to have a custard base of exactly the right 'coating consistency' , and it all seemed rather fraught and definitely unrelaxed. These days, I don't bother with any of that, and essentially just make an enriched Creme Anglaise to which I add whatever flavouring ingredient seems appropriate, let it cool sufficiently and then bung it into the pre-chilled machine and start the paddle working. Yesterday evening was a case in point: with some apple slices which had been sauteed in butter and an equal quantity of caramelised orange segments (both leftover from making Andalusian tarts the day before), I decided to make some Vanilla Ice Cream to have with them rather than just serving them with cream on its own. It took twenty minutes to make the custard base, whch I then left to cool on the windowsill as I turned the machine on to chill; the mixture went into the machine and started to churn just as we sat to the first course, and was exactly the right serving consistency at the moment when it was required...
And the other point? Well, it seems to me that vanilla has received an unjustifiably poor press over time, such that now it has come to be synonymous with 'plain' and 'pedestrian' and 'dull'. Why is that? Vanilla is a fantastically complex flavour...sensual and luscious and sophisticated and wonderful. A true food of the Gods, it is long overdue for rehabilitation...!
My preferred Vanilla IceCream Recipe:
Ingredients: 250 ml Cream; 250 ml Milk; 1 Vanilla Pod, split; 50g Sugar; 6 Egg Yolks.
1. Combine the Milk and Cream in a double boiler or Zimmertopf; scrape the contents of the Vanilla Pod into the combine Milk and Cream, and simmer gently for ten minutes or so (I generally include the ppod itself at this stage, for added flavour, and remove it before adding the flavoured Milk/Cream to the Yolks and Sugar).
2. Meanwhile, whisk together Egg Yolks and Sugar, until the mixture is pale yellow and leaves a ribbon behind the whisk.
3. Add the simmered Milk/Cream to the beaten Yolks and Sugar, stri together thoroughly, and return to the double boiler. Simmer for a further five minutes or so, until it has thickened to a good velvety consistency (don't worry if it has some slight lumps in it - the paddle in the ice cream machine will sort those out).
4. Return the thickened custard to the bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool down for half an hour or so; during this period, turn on the chiller element in the ice cream machine.
5. The longer you leave the custard to cool, the more quickly it will churn. Once you're happy that it is cool enough (half an hour is probably about the minimum length of time you can leave it) then pour it into the pre-chilled machine and start the paddle going.
As soon as it is ready, serve!