Made from a creamy custard base and flavored with vanilla bean paste or extract, this will be your new favorite recipe for ice cream. This French vanilla ice cream uses a little less milk and cream to make sure there’s plenty of room for mix-ins, and the result is an easily customizable, smooth, and creamy vanilla ice cream that’s hard to beat with anything else from the store.
I’ve made this ice cream countless times. I’ve eaten it plain, with plenty of mix-ins, drizzled with lightly sweetened blueberry syrup, and on top of baked goods like my cherry crumble bars and cherry pie with almond extract. Each time, it’s simply incredible, and I think everyone needs to know about it.
Ingredients for French Vanilla Ice Cream
Vanilla custard ice cream is made with just a handful of simple ingredients. Because there are so few ingredients, I recommend using high-quality ingredients like vanilla bean paste. You’ll be able to taste the difference, I promise!
- Sugar. In addition to sweetening the frozen vanilla custard, sugar also reduces the freezing point and helps make the final product nice and creamy.
- Whole milk. There is a time and place for indulgence, and this is it. Whole milk will give your ice cream the best texture. Please don’t use a milk with a lower fat content, as it will make your ice cream more icy than creamy.
- Heavy cream. The fat in heavy cream is essential to give us that creamy frozen custard with the perfect scoopable consistency.
- Salt. Just a pinch helps to enhance all the flavors.
- Egg yolks. The addition of egg yolks makes this a true frozen custard. Yolks contain emulsifiers that help all of the ingredients to bind together smoothly for a rich and creamy texture.
- Vanilla bean paste or extract. You can taste the difference in this ice cream with vanilla bean paste, so I recommend splurging on the paste if you can. If not, use vanilla extract. I stock up at Trader Joe’s during the holidays, but you can also buy vanilla bean paste online.
Equipment for Making Ice Cream at Home
You will need to use an ice cream maker for velvety smooth frozen custard. I use Cuisinart’s 1.5-quart ice cream maker, but you can also use the KitchenAid ice cream bowl or a fancier compressor model.
I like to store my ice cream in long, reusable ice cream containers with silicone seals. The seal keeps the ice cream fresh, and the length makes it easy to get picture-perfect scoops of ice cream for cones and bowls. And, as a bonus, these ones come with stickers to label your ice cream!
If you don’t already have an ice cream scoop you like, my husband found this heavy-duty ice cream scoop a few years ago, and it’s been our go-to ever since.
Quick Tips for Making French Vanilla Ice Cream
If you’ve never made a custard or ice cream before, that’s okay! I include plenty of tips and instruction in the recipe card itself so that even beginner bakers should have success (if you follow the directions, of course).
To make smooth and creamy ice cream, you’ll start with a custard base.
Making the French Vanilla Custard Base
First, combine whole milk and heavy cream with half of the sugar in a medium pot over medium heat. Stir occasionally, until the mixture is warm and steamy but not boiling. (If the mixture boils, it’s not the end of the world, but do let it cool back down to about 150°F/65°C.)
Next, whisk together egg yolks and the remaining sugar in a large bowl. It will start off gluey, but as more air is incorporated into the mixture, it will turn into a voluminous batter (that I think is pretty fun to stir!).
It’s important to whisk the yolks to this stage, as the addition of air in the yolk mixture makes it more difficult for the eggs to curdle during the next step.
Tempering the Egg Yolks
Next, pour the warmed cream into the yolk mixture one to two Tablespoons at a time, whisking constantly. Once that cream has been fully incorporated, add another splash of the cream and whisk until incorporated. It is helpful but not necessary to use a pot with a pour spout.
Repeat this process until at least half of the cream has been added to the yolk mixture, then pour the yolk mixture into the pot with the rest of the cream. Scrape the bowl with a spatula to get any leftover drops into the pot, then return the pot to medium heat.
Cook the custard over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened slightly and is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. (This is about 170°F/75°C if you like to check with a thermometer.)
Transfer the custard into a heat-safe bowl, then stir in the vanilla bean paste or extract. It’s perfectly fine to transfer the custard back to the same bowl you whisked the eggs in originally without washing it (I do it all the time), but you are welcome to use a clean bowl or wash it out if you prefer.
Final Steps before Chilling
I stir in the vanilla right before chilling. This is a helpful technique when using vanilla extract, as the heat during cooking can cause the alcohol (and therefore some of the flavor) in the vanilla extract to burn off. It doesn’t matter quite as much with vanilla bean paste, but it’s still good practice, especially if you adapt this recipe with other extracts and flavorings down the road.
Some recipes call for placing a layer of plastic wrap right against the top of the custard to prevent it from forming a skin as it chills. I personally have never found that necessary, as the churning from the ice cream maker immediately after chilling tends to break up any skin that does form.
Cover the custard and chill in the fridge until the entire bowl and its contents are cold to the touch. How long this takes depends on the size of your bowl: Using a larger bowl means the custard will cool faster; a smaller bowl will take longer to chill. Keep the custard refrigerated and churn into ice cream within a day for best results.
Churning the French Vanilla Custard
Right before adding the custard to the ice cream maker, place the container in which you plan to store the ice cream in the freezer. This will allow it to chill and prevent the ice cream from melting on contact during transfer later.
Let the ice cream churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions (or a little longer if you read the next section), until the ice cream forms rounded domes above the sides of the paddle.
Then, remove the empty container from the freezer and use a heavy-duty spatula to transfer the ice cream into the cold container. It takes quite a bit of force to scrape down the sides of my ice cream canister, so a heavy-duty spatula that won’t break is ideal.
Place a lid on the container and freeze the ice cream for at least four hours, or until fully set, then enjoy!
The Secret to Getting Scoopable Homemade Ice Cream
My ice cream maker manual says that most ice creams are ready to go in the freezer after just 15-20 minutes of churning. That is technically true, but oftentimes, the ice cream is really difficult to scoop and needs to soften in the fridge or on the counter for a bit.
Fortunately, I have achieved a much softer and silkier ice cream going by look rather than time! (See images below for reference.)
At the 20-minute mark, my ice cream is normally far more voluminous than it started, but it melts somewhat as soon as I start scooping it into the container. By letting the ice cream maker churn for an extra 5-10 minutes, it creates a finer network of ice crystals that doesn’t melt as quickly and stays soft in the freezer!
I didn’t tell my husband that I was testing out this method, and when he scooped the ice cream the next day, he remarked on how much easier it was to scoop compared to normal and asked if I had done something differently. I call that a win!
This vanilla ice cream leaves plenty of room for you to add in your favorite mix-ins.
For best results, I recommend freezing (or at least chilling) your mix-ins for at least 20 minutes prior to adding to the ice cream and using mix-ins no larger than ½” cubes (13 mm).
FAQs about French Vanilla Ice Cream
This recipe makes a little less than 1.5 quarts. This gives you enough room to add in up to 1 cup of toppings and mix-ins if you’d like!
Yep! I like to add ½ to 1 cup of mini chocolate chips, crushed graham crackers, and whatever sweet leftovers I can find when I make this ice cream.
You absolutely can! I’ve made this ice cream with up to six yolks after some extensive macaron baking and did not taste a noticeable difference.
Yes, it does, if you follow my secret to getting scoopable homemade ice cream in the section above this!
Other Recipes You May Enjoy
If vanilla’s your thing, my birthday cake batter French buttercream has a strong vanilla flavor from vanilla bean paste (or extract) and tastes just like birthday cake batter.
Looking for a no-egg ice cream recipe? My cherry pie ice cream uses fresh cherries and leftover pie crust to make a sweet and crunchy summer-themed ice cream.
Dish Cleanup: Gonna Take a While
I rate my recipe cleanups on a scale of 1 to 5. 1 is only a handful of dishes, and 5 is everything including the kitchen sink.
This French vanilla ice cream recipe has a cleanup rating of a 4. A word of advice: It’s much easier to rinse everything while the custard is still wet; otherwise, you may have to scrub at the dried-on portions. My only exception is the frozen canister, as I let it warm up to room temperature before cleaning it (otherwise the soapy water can freeze to the sides, even if you’re using warm water). I always seem to get a drop or two of ice cream on the outer ice cream cage, so I wash that up, too.
French Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe
- 1 cup sugar (200 g), divided
- 1 ½ cups whole milk (350 ml)
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream (350 ml)
- pinch of salt
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1 Tablespoon vanilla bean paste or extract (15 ml)
Making the French Vanilla Custard Base
- In a medium pot over medium heat, stir together half of the sugar (½ cup or 100 g), whole milk, heavy cream, and a pinch of salt. Stir occasionally, until the cream mixture is warm and steamy and just about simmering, about 8-10 minutes. Do not let the mixture boil.
- Meanwhile, whisk together four yolks and the remaining half of the sugar in a large heat-safe bowl. Whisk until the yolk mixture becomes pale yellow and thick. This is known as the ribbon stage, where the mixture falls off the whisk in ribbons that are clearly visible for a few seconds before disappearing back into the mixture.
Tempering the Egg Yolks
- Remove the warm cream mixture from heat and carefully pour about 1-2 Tablespoons (15-30 ml) into the yolk mixture at a time, whisking vigorously until incorporated. Repeat 1-2 Tablespoons (15-30 ml) at a time until you've added about half of the cream mixture.
- Pour the egg yolk mixture back into the pot with the cream mixture and return to medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon or is about 170°F/75°C, about 5-10 minutes. Again, do not let the custard boil.*
- Pour the custard into a large heat-safe bowl. (I always use the same one the egg yolk mixture was in, but you're welcome to use a clean bowl.)
- Stir in the vanilla bean paste or extract, then cover the bowl and chill in the fridge for at least four hours or up to one day, until the mixture is cold to the touch.
Churning the French Vanilla Custard
- Once chilled, place the container in which you'll store the ice cream in the freezer, along with any mix-ins you plan to add. Then, pour the custard into a ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer's instructions. This usually takes around 20-30 minutes. I allow the ice cream to churn until it forms rounded domes above the paddle for soft and scoopable ice cream even straight out of the freezer. (Reference images above in blog post.)
- If desired, add in ½ to one cup of mix-ins, like mini chocolate chips, during the last five minutes of churning.
- For French vanilla soft serve, enjoy right away. For traditional French vanilla ice cream, transfer to an airtight container and freeze for at least four hours to allow the ice cream to firm up before serving.
*If the custard gets too hot and splits, I recommend straining the mixture through a fine mesh sieve before adding it to the bowl to reduce the potential for graininess. The ice cream may not be as thick as usual, but it will still taste delicious!
Store in the freezer in an airtight container for up to three months.
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Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker Machine, 1.5 Quart Sorbet, Frozen Yogurt Maker, Double Insulated, White, ICE-21P1
Set of 2 Reusable Ice Cream Tub Containers For Homemade Ice Cream 1.6 Quart - Stackable Storage Containers, Stickers, And Lids
Spring Chef Heavy Duty Ice Cream Scoop
Pyrex Prepware 2-1/2-Quart Glass Mixing Bowl
Cuisinart Silicone Whisk, 10-Inch, Black
Rodelle Paste, Vanilla, 4 Fl Oz
Serving Size:1 scoop
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 215Total Fat: 14gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 114mgSodium: 57mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 0gSugar: 19gProtein: 4g
The nutrition facts are estimated and may vary based on specific ingredients used.
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