How to Make the Best Vanilla Custard Ice Cream
We'll show you how to make vanilla custard ice cream that is so good, you'll fall in love after the first scoop!
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When summer rolls around, there’s nothing more satisfying on a hot day than a bowl of ice cream with every topping you can think of. And while store-bought ice cream is a good go-to to have stocked in your freezer, it’s even more fun to pull out your very own homemade vanilla custard ice cream.
Thick, creamy and packed with real vanilla, this custard ice cream recipe can’t be beat. We’re willing to bet that after one scoop, you’ll be hooked.
Keep reading to learn how to make vanilla custard ice cream and get a ton of helpful tips from our Test Kitchen pros.
What’s the Difference Between Ice Cream and Frozen Custard?
Ice cream and frozen custard are very similar. What makes them different is that frozen custard contains egg yolks, while ice cream traditionally does not. The egg yolks make frozen custard richer, creamier and thicker than its ice cream counterpart.
Try this recipe and our homemade vanilla ice cream recipe side-by-side to see if you can taste the difference. In the end, though, both can be used and enjoyed interchangeably.
How To Make Vanilla Custard Ice Cream
This vanilla custard ice cream recipe was developed by Taste of Home senior food editor Peggy Woodward. The ice cream gets its creamy texture from the addition of six egg yolks and heavy whipping cream. Oh, and don’t skip the vanilla bean; it’s what takes this recipe over the top!
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 cups 2% milk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 1 vanilla bean
- 6 large egg yolks
Tools You’ll Need
- Ice cream maker: This ice cream maker from Cuisinart is one of our Test Kitchen’s favorites. It’s easy to use and churn your base into frozen custard in 20 minutes with just the push of a button.
- Freezer container: After it’s set up, store your ice cream in this freezer container. The rectangular shape is compact so it’ll fit in even the fullest freezer. This also makes a great gift for ice cream fanatics.
- Ice cream scoop: No kitchen is complete without an ice cream scoop, and this notched ice cream scoop is one of the best.
Step 1: Prep the custard
To start, place a heavy saucepan over medium heat and stir in the heavy whipping cream, milk, sugar and salt.
Then, using a sharp paring knife, cut your vanilla bean in half lengthwise and gently scrape all of the seeds out of the bean. Add the seeds and empty pod into the cream mixture. Stir to dissolve the sugar and cook the cream until bubbles start to form along the side of the saucepan.
Test Kitchen Tip: When purchasing vanilla beans, look for pods that are shiny and pliable. Stiff beans are dried out and won’t pack as powerful of a vanilla punch.
If you can’t find vanilla beans in the grocery store or online, you can substitute one vanilla bean with 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste. Here’s more on the difference between vanilla beans, extract and paste.
Step 2: Cook the custard
Then, whisking constantly, pour about half a cup of the vanilla and heavy cream mixture into the yolks to temper them. When the yolks are warmed, slowly whisk them into the saucepan and reduce the burner to low.
Continue to stir the mixture until it has thickened enough to coat the back of a metal spoon and reaches 180°F with a food thermometer. This temperature is important because it means the eggs have cooked enough to be food-safe. While stirring, keep an eye out to make sure the custard doesn’t reach a boil.
Test Kitchen Tip: Adding some of the hot milk mixture to the eggs tempers them. That means the egg yolks are slowly raised in temperature to prevent them from curdling when they’re added to the rest of the pot. This technique is also used to make hollandaise sauce, mousse and many other treats.
Step 3: Cool the Custard
Once the custard is up to temperature and thickened, transfer it quickly to a large bowl. Place the bowl in a 13×9 pan that’s filled with ice. Let the custard cool in the ice bath for about two minutes, giving it a gentle stir every so often.
When the custard has cooled, remove the vanilla bean and cover the bowl with wax paper, pushing it down into the bowl so it touches the surface of the custard. Place your covered bowl in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight, to cool completely.
Test Kitchen Tip: This two-step cooling process is important for the ice cream’s texture and flavor. The initial ice bath stops the cooking process so the eggs don’t curdle and the custard doesn’t separate.
The fridge cooling gives the vanilla time to imbue the custard with a powerful flavor. Plus, the heavy cream and milk are able to better emulsify for a rich, creamy texture.
Step 4: Churn the Custard
After the custard has rested in the fridge, fill your ice cream maker according to the machine’s instructions. If there’s any remaining vanilla custard ice cream base left, you can keep it in the fridge to churn in the second batch.
Test Kitchen Tip: If you don’t have an ice cream machine, no worries! Simply pour your prepared custard in a freezer-safe 13×9, cover and pop it in the fridge for 30 minutes. Then, pull the ice cream out of the freezer and whip it with a hand mixer until smooth. Repeat this freezing and beating process until the ice cream reaches your desired texture. Here’s more on how to make ice cream without a machine.
Step 5: Freeze the ice cream
You can serve your vanilla custard ice cream right when it’s done churning. The texture will be soft; similar to soft-serve ice cream.
If you prefer it to be firmer, transfer your ice cream to a freezer container and let it freeze for at least four hours, or overnight. After freezing, your ice cream will have firmed up and be perfectly scoopable.
Step 7: Enjoy!
Homemade Custard Ice Cream Variations
While this recipe is for vanilla ice cream, you’re definitely not limited to just vanilla. To change the flavor of the custard itself, add chocolate, fruit or extracts to the custard before it has cooled and rested overnight. This will give the custard time to really pick up the flavoring.
For mix-ins like marshmallows, sprinkles, cookie bits or nuts, it’s best to add them to the ice cream after it has gone through the ice cream machine, but before it firms in the freezer. This prevents the bits from getting soggy or stale. Plus, the soft serve-like texture of the ice cream makes it easy to evenly distribute all the goodies. Here are some of our go-to flavor additions:
- Chocolate: Melt two cups of semisweet chocolate chips, and let it cool to room temperature. Whisk together the melted chocolate into the egg yolks before they’re tempered (before step two, in the above method). Then continue with the recipe as directed.
- Strawberry: Mash about two cups of fresh strawberries with ¼ cup of sugar. Stir the sugared strawberries into your custard as it cools in its ice bath (during step three). Then continue with the recipe as directed.
- Mint chocolate chip: While the custard is cooling in the ice bath (step three) stir in 1 teaspoon of mint extract and green food coloring if desired. Let the custard rest in the fridge and churn in the ice cream machine. Transfer the ice cream to a freezer container and mix in mini chocolate chips until they’re evenly distributed. Allow the ice cream to firm up in the freezer, then serve.
- Cookie dough: Purchase edible cookie dough from the store, or make your own with heat-treated flour to ensure the dough is food-safe. Break the dough into teaspoon-sized pieces and freeze in a single layer on a baking sheet. After your ice cream has been transferred into a freezer container, stir in the chocolate chip cookie dough pieces until they’re evenly distributed. Freeze and serve ice cream as directed above.
But that’s just the start. Check out these unique homemade ice cream flavors for more ideas.
Tips for Making and Serving Vanilla Custard Ice Cream
How do you make ice cream more creamy?
For the creamiest ice cream, take your time. Rushing through tempering your eggs and custard or the two-step cooling process can lead to a less creamy result.
Also, be sure to not use dairy that’s lower in fat or dairy alternatives. The high fat content is essential for creamy ice cream. While lower fat milk will likely still work in this recipe, your ice cream will have an icier texture.
How do you make ice cream soft?
If soft serve is your go-to, serve this vanilla custard ice cream after it’s done churning in the ice cream machine. To keep any leftovers soft, take the ice cream out of the freezer about 20 minutes before you want to serve it. This will give the ice cream some time to become soft again.
How do you thicken ice cream?
The key to thick ice cream is to properly cook the custard. When tempering and adding the egg yolks, the custard should be cooked until it sticks to a metal spoon and holds the line when you run your finger through it.
What goes well with vanilla ice cream?
A scoop of ice cream is the perfect finishing touch for almost any dessert, though these recipes are a great place to start. You can also add a scoop of vanilla ice cream to any pie for pie a la mode.