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vanilla ice cream with blueberry cake

How To Add Vanilla Flavor to Ice Cream (+ Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe)

Many roads lead to Rome. And just as many roads lead to vanilla ice cream. It’s a classic – I have yet to visit an ice cream shop that does not sell a vanilla-flavored ice cream. But how do you add the vanilla flavor? Do you use an extract, or a whole bean? There are many good options, let’s have a look at their pros and cons.

Since this ice cream is a little simpler in flavor profile, it’s great to pair it with other things. Apple pie, warm brownies, they all get better when combined with a scoop of this ice cream.

Choosing the type of vanilla for your ice cream

There are a lot of ways in which you can add that vanilla flavor to your ice cream. Our human’s passion for vanilla flavor has led us to develop a range of vanilla options! Let’s discuss the pros and cons of using each in our ice cream.

Option 1: Using a vanilla bean

The original: a vanilla bean. Vanilla flavorings started with the discovery that we could use vanilla beans to add this delicious flavor to our food. A discovery made centuries ago.

A vanilla bean contains hundreds of different flavor molecules. Combined, they make vanilla taste like vanilla. However, these molecules are still trapped within the seeds and the thick structure of the bean. To use vanilla beans in ice cream, you will have to extract these molecules from the beans.

Add it at the beginning

It is why you will see recipes, including the one below, call for steeping the bean in the liquids of your ice cream. During this time, the flavor molecules have time to migrate from the bean, into the liquid, infusing your ice cream with flavor.

Vanilla beans aren’t the only spice that benefit from steeping. Cinnamon sticks give most flavor when given time to steep!

store bought vanilla beans and vanilla extract
Vanilla pods (in glass jars) and extract (in bottle on left).

Option 2: Vanilla extract

A vanilla extract, as the name alludes to, is an extraction of vanilla flavor. In other words, those valuable flavor molecules from the vanilla bean? They have already been taken out and migrated into this liquid.

Add it towards the end

If you use an extract to make vanilla ice cream, there is no need to steep it anymore. On the contrary. Vanilla extract contains lot of alcohol. Alcohol helps to extract those flavor molecules. But, alcohol also evaporates quite easily, at lower temperatures than water would. Upon evaporating, it would take along some of those delicious flavors!

As such, add the extract towards the end. That way, the flavor molecules don’t have time to evaporate, and the effect is strongest.

You can buy vanilla extract, but, it’s also quite easy to make vanilla extract yourselves.

Option 3: Vanilla paste

Vanilla paste is a mix of the two first options. Vanilla extract and ground-up vanilla beans are the core of vanilla paste. Since it’s a mix of the first two options, how you use it in ice cream is as well.

Since most of the flavor molecules have been extracted already though, it’s best to add it towards the end.

Option 4: Vanilla flavoring / aroma

Using a vanilla flavoring or aroma? Then it’s likely a pretty pure concoction of vanillin. Vanillin is the main flavor molecule in vanilla. It can be made without needing any vanilla beans and as such is a lot cheaper than the other alternatives.

The flavor tends to be quite concentrated and strong compared to the other options. Also, it’s cheaper. As such, when and where you use it isn’t as important. You can add it at the start, or towards the end and you’ll likely still end up with a good vanilla flavor!

Want to learn how vanillin is made?

vanilla ice cream with blueberry cake

Vanilla bean ice cream recipe

Yield: 8 portions
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

A simple but delicious ice cream. We use vanilla beans to add vanilla flavor, with other options given in the comments.

Since this ice cream is a little simpler in flavor profile, it's great to pair it with other things. Apple pie, warm brownies, they all get better when combined with a scoop of this ice cream.

Ingredients

  • 300ml milk
  • 300ml whipping cream (35% fat)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 75g sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean

Instructions

Steeping the vanilla bean

  1. Slice the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds. Add both the bean and the seeds into the milk.
  2. Bring the milk to the boil.
  3. Turn off the heat and leave the vanilla bean to steep for 30 minutes. If you want a stronger flavor, you can leave it to steep for longer. If you do, store the milk in the fridge to prevent spoilage.

Making ice cream

  1. Mix the eggs and the sugar in a separate bowl.
  2. Bring the milk back to a boil.
  3. Once boiling, pour the milk through a sieve and into the eggs and sugar, whisking continuously.
  4. Pour the mixture back into the pan and bring to the boil slowly, while whisking continuously. This is easiest if you're using a double boiler (au-bain-marie), which is simply an aluminum bowl placed on top of a pot with boiling water.
  5. You will see the custard thicken slightly. You will know it's thickened enough if it doesn't run down a spatula completely.
  6. Once the custard has thickened enough take it from the fire.*
  7. Whisk through the cream.
  8. Leave to cool down to room temperature.
  9. Pour the mix into the ice cream maker. Churn into ice cream using the settings of your ice cream machine.
  10. Take the ice cream from the ice cream machine and place in an airtight freezer container. Store in the freezer for at least 8 hours for the ice cream to harden.

Notes

*Do not want to use vanilla beans, but prefer using a vanilla extract or paste? We'd recommend adding those in here. Start with 1 tsp of extract or 1/2 tsp of paste and adjust to taste.

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References

HV Creamery, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream: A Troubling New Trend, Aug-20, 2019, link

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3 Comments

  1. Or

    You could put the egg yolks into a saucepan and whisk them to a light yellow, then add the sugar to the eggs a little at time whisking until all the sugar is incorporated and the egg mix is at the ribbon stage. Then add all the dairy, milk and cream, to the saucepan along with the vanilla “powder” and the bean and using an instant read candy thermometer, cook to 170°F stirring frequently. Remove the bean and pseudo homogenize with an immersion blender for 30 to 45 seconds and then place the saucepan into an ice bath. Remove the vanilla bean. When chilled to 40°F cover the pan with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator overnight and the next day churn in an ice cream maker to a soft serve consistency, transfer to a freezer container, placing plastic wrap on the surface and harden in a freezer overnight.

    • Hi Robert,
      Thanks for this addition! There are so many ways to make vanilla ice cream aren’t there?!

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