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This vanilla ice cream is creamy, dreamy and easy to adapt

(Photos by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post)
Vanilla Ice Cream
Active time:20 mins
Total time:45 mins, plus chilling and freezing time
Servings:14 servings; makes 1 3/4 quarts
Active time:20 mins
Total time:45 mins, plus chilling and freezing time
Servings:14 servings; makes 1 3/4 quarts

Sometimes a happy accident leads to a keeper of a recipe. That’s what happened as my husband and I experimented with making a vanilla ice cream that hit just the right notes for luscious scoop-ability, balanced sweetness and creamy vanilla flavor.

Over a few weeks, we made about a dozen variations before we settled on this one, taking turns manning the pot, whisking the sugar into the eggs and running the ice cream maker. Once we had batches we liked, we roped in dinner guests to be our testers. I brought batches into work and had colleagues taste test in the Food Lab, too, until we were happy with this simple ice cream.

The happy accident? Leftover goat milk. Thank you to Deborah Reid and her Goat Milk Pudding and Poached Quince With Rose Water for that. We make ice cream often, so I suggested that we sub in the leftover goat milk for the whole milk one evening after testing Reid’s dessert at home.

Homemade ice creams can be a bit less scoop-able than commercial brands, but this one is exactly right — without using corn syrup (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s a great way to get that sweet, curvy curl. The recipe calls for three cups of heavy cream and two cups of goat milk. Of course, you may substitute whole milk for the goat milk, but the ice cream will freeze stiffer and taste a bit sweeter. Goat milk has just the right bit of tang.

Once we were settled on the goat milk as an addition, we continued mixing and tasting. The recipe calls for 10 large egg yolks, so be ready to either freeze those egg whites or make a couple of egg white omelets or a few batches of meringues. We tried it with eight and it was fine, but 10 was so much richer. We also experimented with the sugar, trying to bring it down as much as we could, and ended up with one cup, half whisked into the egg yolks and half stirred into the dairy.

How to use up leftover egg yolks or egg whites, based on how many you have

After prodding from my colleague Olga Massov, I switched to split vanilla beans, which, if you have them on hand, provide a deeper flavor. Vanilla extract works fine as well. Finally, do not skimp on the salt. Just a bit not only balances the flavor, making the vanilla pop, but helps the ice cream firm up beautifully.

The ice cream base takes about 20 minutes to make. Then, of course, you must chill it for at least six hours or, ideally, overnight, and then churn it and let it firm up in the freezer.

If you delight in a smooth curl as you run your scoop through the sweet, frozen custard, try this recipe. It makes 1 3/4 quarts, but we often cut it in half because we are a household of just two and I prefer that homemade ice cream not linger in the freezer for more than a couple of weeks. Even with parchment or wax paper pressed on top, it can start to crystallize.

How to create the ice cream of your dreams

And, as with most vanilla ice creams, this one can be a jumping off point. Add chocolate chips, nuts or your favorite fruit. If I’m using fruit, I like to use pieces that are heading toward that too-ripe phase. Scoop it onto a cone or a dish and sprinkle it with toasted coconut, or add chocolate syrup or shell on top.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Use a split vanilla bean rather than extract for a richer flavor. When you’re finished with the vanilla bean, rinse it, pat it dry and add it to a sugar canister to make vanilla sugar.

You’ll need an ice cream maker with a 2-quart capacity. If yours is smaller, halve the recipe or plan to churn it in batches.

Active time: 20 mins; Total time: 45 mins, plus chilling and freezing time

Make Ahead: The ice cream base needs to chill for at least 6 hours and up to overnight in the refrigerator. The churned ice cream needs to harden in the freezer for at least 6 hours.

Storage Notes: Freeze in an airtight container, with a sheet of wax paper pressed to the top, for up to 2 weeks.

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  • 10 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • 3 cups (720 milliliters) heavy cream
  • 2 cups (480 milliliters) goat milk (may substitute with whole milk; see headnote)
  • 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine salt

Step 1

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and 1/2 cup (100 grams) of the sugar until well combined.

Step 2

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the cream, milk, the remaining 1/2 cup (100 grams) of the sugar, vanilla and salt and, stirring frequently to prevent scorching on the bottom, bring the mixture to a simmer, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat

Step 3

With a ladle in one hand and a whisk in another, drizzle a small amount of the heated liquid into the egg mixture while whisking. Continue until about a third of the hot liquid has been blended with the eggs and the mixture feels warm to the touch. Slowly pour the egg mixture back into the pot, continuing to whisk until the custard is smooth and well combined.

Step 4

Return the saucepan to medium heat and let the custard come to a simmer, with small bubbles around the edges; it should be thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, or register about 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Remove from the heat and remove the vanilla bean (see headnote), if using.

Step 5

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large container with a tightfitting lid, stirring and pressing the custard through with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 6 hours and preferably overnight.

Step 6

Assemble your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions and turn it on. Pour in the chilled custard and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. The custard should be the consistency of soft-serve ice cream. Place the now-empty storage container in the freezer to chill while ice cream freezes.

Step 7

Pack the ice cream into the chilled storage container. Press a piece of wax paper directly against the surface and cover with the lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 6 hours and preferably overnight.

Nutrition Information

Per serving (1/2 cup)

Calories: 295; Total Fat: 24 g; Saturated Fat: 14 g; Cholesterol: 206 mg; Sodium: 211 mg; Carbohydrates: 18 g; Dietary Fiber: 0 g; Sugar: 16 g; Protein: 4 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From recipes editor Ann Maloney.

Tested by Colley Charpentier and Ann Maloney; email questions to

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