The Easiest Way to Make Vanilla Ice Cream at Home
3rd July 2014
... Comments

Come warm weather, there's nothing better than a frosty scoop of homemade ice cream pulled right from your freezer. It'll impress your friends, save you money and keep yourself and the kids entertained whilst making it! It will also keep you in ice cream throughout the summer holidays!

 Making ice cream is hard! It takes too much time! I can't afford an ice cream maker!

To set the record straight: If you can bake a cake from a box, you can make ice cream from scratch. You may even have all the ingredients in your kitchen right now. And though yes, ice cream does require a piece of special equipment (or not), it's an inexpensive investment that'll last you endless summers of frozen dessert bliss.

The problem for beginners is that most ice cream recipes are more involved than they need to be. They throw around terms like "ribboning" and "tempering," use half a dozen bowls and pots, and demand ice baths and an expectation for perfect ice cream intuition. They read as welcoming as a Hong Kong telephone directory!

But as far as desserts go, ice cream's incredibly easy. To prove it, here is one of the easiest way to make vanilla ice cream at home, step by step, ingredient by ingredient. You'll need less than 30 minutes of active prep time, a few hours to an overnight wait, and half an hour of effortless churn time. And that's it: start this recipe in the morning and you can have fresh ice cream for dessert that night.

What You Need

The ingredient list is so small and flexible it barely needs a formal recipe, but here goes. You'll need:

  • 2 cups of heavy cream
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • Vanilla extract to taste
  • Salt to taste

Unlike a lot of baked goods, ice cream ingredient amounts have some flexibility. To make a more rich and creamy ice cream, use a higher ratio of cream to milk, add an egg yolk or two, or use more sugar, depending on whether you want a milkier, eggier, or sweeter end result. Want a lighter ice cream? Just do the opposite. The base written above is fairly rich but not overwhelming, and sweet enough to carry the flavours well.

Here's the equipment you'll need:

  • 1 decent, reasonably heavy-bottomed pot, two-quart capacity or larger
  • 1 bowl
  • 1 whisk
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • A strainer
  • An ice cream maker 

That's it!

How to Make It

The basic path to ice cream involves cooking a stirred custard, flavouring it, and churning it. You can break the steps down as follows:

  • Separate egg yolks
  • Whisk egg yolks and sugar together until completely combined
  • Whisk in your dairy until completely combined
  • Cook your base on medium heat until it forms a custard
  • Add flavorings
  • Strain into a container and let rest in fridge until cold,
  • preferably overnight
  • Churn ice cream and harden it in the freezer
  • Eat

Get this technique down and any ice cream recipe is in your reach. Making ice cream with vanilla beans? Steep your dairy and vanilla separately, then add to the eggs and sugar. Want chocolate? Whisk cocoa powder into your yolks and sugar, then cook normally. Swirls and mix-ins are great, but you may find that your homemade stuff is so good that it doesn't need anything else.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Making ice cream is easy and forgiving, but there are some common mistakes to watch out for.

  • Make sure your eggs and sugar are well combined.
  • Whisk them well until the mixture resembles the color and
  • texture of lemon curd: a thick pudding-like goo with a pale
  • yellow color. The mixture should fall from a whisk in one
  • continuous "ribbon." In fancy ice cream talk, this is called
  • "ribboning" the yolks, and it helps protect your eggs from
  • curdling.
  • Stir your custard as it cooks. Not obsessively, but once
  • every 30 seconds, making sure to scrape the bottom of the
  • pot as you do so. Once again, this is all about keeping your
  • eggs from curdling.
  • Use slow, even heat with a good pot. It is recommended
  • to never heat the ice cream base past medium heat, use a
  • pot with a good heavy bottom. You don't need anything
  • fancy, but slow, even cooking is the best way to a good
  • custard.
  • Don't overcook your base. Once you start to see steam
  • rise from your custard, you can be sure your eggs are totally
  • cooked, so you can taste and test for doneness at will. If you
  • want to use a thermometer, 170°F is your target. To test
  • that, dip a wooden spoon into your custard. If the custard
  • coats the spoon's back and you can swipe a clean line across
  • it , you're done. If the line collapses, you have
  • more cooking to do.
  • Strain your base. Once your base has finished cooking,
  • strain it. It's a small step that eliminates any clumpy egg bits
  • that made their way into your base.
  • Chill before churning. The colder your ice cream base is
  • going into the churn, the creamier it will be. So chill it down
  • in the fridge after it's cooked. As few as six hours may do it,
  • but an overnight chill is even better. You'll need the extra
  • time to make sure your freezable churning bowl is fully
  • chilled.

What You Don't Need to Worry About

Many ice cream recipes are full of processes and terms you don't need to bother with. Such as:

Don't scald your dairy. "Scalding" dairy, or heating it to just below a simmer, is supposed to kill bacteria and denature dairy proteins. But since all commercial dairy has been pasteurized and homogenized—i.e. super-heated and emulsified—heating it up again doesn't really do anything. If you're not infusing your dairy with any flavors beforehand, just add it straight to your egg-sugar mixture.

Don't bother tempering your eggs. If you add hot dairy to egg yolks, even with the protection of sugar, your eggs will curdle. So recipes that call for scalding dairy also call for tempering eggs, or ladling a small amount of hot dairy into your yolks, whisking like crazy, and ladling again and again. It's messy work, and if you're not scalding your dairy, there's no reason to bother with it. If you've heated your dairy to infuse in flavors, like a vanilla bean or a bunch of mint leaves, let it steep off the heat. After an hour or two it'll suck plenty of flavour from those ingredients and will have cooled off enough that you can whisk it right into your yolks. Just whisk fast!

Don't make an ice bath: Some recipes tell you to cool your cooked custard in an ice bath before chilling in your fridge. This does chill your base faster, but it's better to wait a couple more hours for a chilled base than bother—especially if  chilling it overnight anyway.

The Step by Step

Your basic setup: heavy cream, whole milk, six eggs, 3/4 cup of sugar, salt, and vanilla extract, plus a decent heavy-bottomed pot and a bowl. A cutting board for cracking eggs if you prefer.

Measuring cups and spoons. You'll need those, too.

Egg Separating Setup

The first thing that scares home cooks about ice cream is separating eggs, but here's the fastest way to get it done. Set a cutting board in the center of your work space for cracking your eggs and put your pot and bowl to either side. The pot gets the yolks, the bowl gets the whites and shells.If you want to save your whites for another project, throw the shells away.

Separate Eggs

You can pass egg yolks from one part of the shell to the other, but the fastest way to separate them is to let the white slip through your fingers while cupping the yolk.You should line your bowl with a plastic bag. Once all your whites and shells are in there, tie up the bag and discard it. You just saved yourself from washing up a bowl!

Add Sugar to Eggs

You can use as little as 1/2 cup of sugar per 3 cups of dairy, but 3/4 cup will ensure a creamy, ice-free texture.

Start Whisking

Right in the pot. The goal is to completely combine the yolks and sugar until the mixture doesn't look or feel grainy anymore.

Keep Going...

Make sure to dig right into the corners!


This is what professional ice cream recipes call the "ribbon stage," or "lighter in color and slightly thickened." The mixture falls in a smooth, unbroken ribbon from the whisk into the pot, and the colour has lightened into something like lemon curd.

Add Dairy

Whisk in your dairy until it's well combined. You don't want to see any streaks of yolk.

The standard creamy base calls for two cups of heavy cream and one cup of whole milk. If you want it more rich, substitute half and half for the milk or add another egg yolk or two. If you want it less rich, use equal parts cream and milk or use one or two fewer egg yolks. It's really up to you and your personal taste.

Spoon Time

Now's when to switch over to a wooden spoon. Set your pot on medium heat and start cooking your mess of dairy into a custard. You don't need to stir constantly, but don't go too far away. It's best to stir about every 30 seconds, scraping the bottom of the pot as you do so. The goal is to gently cook the eggs without scrambling them.

You might ask, don't I need to scald my dairy and temper it into the eggs?No! Commercial dairy is pasteurized and homogenized, which means it's already been heated up to a high temperature and thoroughly emulsified. You heating up the dairy to a bare simmer won't do anything on top of that except waste time. And if you start from cold dairy, you don't need to slowly temper it into your egg yolks to prevent curdling. The entire custard can be heated together all at once with no loss in quality.The exception is if you're planning to steep a flavour in your dairy that takes time to infuse, like vanilla beans or mint leaves. In that case, heat your dairy to a bare simmer separately, add your flavourings, cover, and remove from the heat. Let a vanilla bean steep for one hour; mint goes for two. By the time it's done, the dairy is usually at a low enough temperature that you can quickly whisk it into your well-combined yolk-sugar mixture with little risk of curdling.For this recipe, you can also substitute in a pint of half and half and a cup of heavy cream. It's a similar—though not exactly the same—amount of fat to the above, but it has one key advantage: pre-measured ingredients, no measuring cup required.

Slow Cooking

Your custard will slowly heat through, and visual cues are your best guide. If you like you can use a thermometer, but it's not essential at home. The mixture should be just starting to warm at 125°F. There's a slight frothy head at the top, but the texture is still basically hot cream.

There We Go

The custard should be at about 170°F. It coats the back of a spoon, but a finger swiped across the back leaves a clean line—nappe in fancy kitchen talk (French). At this point the custard is as cooked as you need it to be—take it off the heat.Use this spoon test often as the custard warms through. If the custard starts to simmer at all before you reach this stage, reduce the heat to low and stir more frequently.

Add Flavourings

Add your flavouring—vanilla extract in this case—along with some salt. One teaspoon of vanilla and about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Taste the ice cream and adjust the seasonings yourself, keeping in mind that the flavours will dull slightly once the ice cream is frozen.


If you've been careful, you won't have much in the way of curdled egg, but a good straining never hurts.

If you're adding citrus zest to flavour your ice cream, add it after straining. You can always strain the little threads out before churning.

Once your custard is strained, cover it and chill it in the fridge overnight. Realistically you only need to chill it until it's cold, but an overnight chill, or "aging" as it's sometimes called, is said to improve the final flavour even more.


What happens when you overcook your custard? A lumpy, eggy mess. Reduce your heat at the first sign of simmering to keep this from happening.

Ice Cream Maker

You can make ice cream without a machine, but you may need to adjust standard recipes, and you'll have to dig out a food processor anyway, so make life easy and get a machine. There are many to choose from and can be bought at no great cost. You'll need to chill the churning bowl overnight in your freezer until all the gel inside has turned solid. When you chill your ice cream base the night before churning, stick your churning bowl in the freezer.

Start Churning

Turn the machine on so the churn is spinning before you add the ice cream base.


Most ice cream recipes tell you to "churn ice cream according to manufacturer's instructions." What does that mean exactly? Here's a guide: when your ice cream looks pretty close to soft serve, stop the machine and swipe a spoon across it. If the track you made collapses, keep churning. If it holds, it's done.

Soft Serve

If you want to serve this purely as soft serve, you may want to churn more air into it than this, if not, it will make great hard ice cream after a few hours in the freezer. Get it into a container and in the coldest part of your freezer as soon as possible!


About the Author

Peter L

Member since: 4th June 2013

An owner of Thebestof Portsmouth, I have lived in Portsmouth and Southsea all my life, so I like to think I have a good idea about what makes us tick. I am passionate about all things Portsmouth and Southsea,...

Popular Categories