Stay cool this summer with rich, creamy, delicious homemade ice cream—it’s the best kind there is. Here, we show you how to make it from scratch, step by step. Start by watching our step-by-step video, then master the frozen dessert yourself with a recipe for vanilla ice cream (scroll down for a few of our favorite tasty variations!).
French Vanilla Ice Cream
6 large eggs
1 large, soft vanilla bean
1 1/2 cups (12 fl. oz./375 ml) whole milk
1 1/2 cups (12 fl. oz./375 ml) heavy cream
3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g) granulated sugar
Separate the eggs
Crack an egg on your work surface, then hold it upright over 1 small bowl and lift away the top half of the shell. The yolk should be resting in the bottom half. Transfer the yolk back and forth between the shell halves over the bowl, allowing all the egg white to drop into the bowl. Drop the yolk into a separate, heatproof bowl and transfer the white to another small bowl. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Set the yolks aside, and reserve the whites for another use.
Split the vanilla bean
Using a paring knife, carefully slit the vanilla bean down the center lengthwise. Use the tip of the knife to scrape the seeds from the bean and add them to a medium saucepan. You may need to do the scraping twice, as the seeds tend to stick to the pod. Add the vanilla bean pod to the saucepan as well.
Prepare the custard ingredients
Add the milk, 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) of the cream, and the sugar to the saucepan with the vanilla bean. Add the remaining 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) cream to the bowl with the egg yolks. Using a whisk, mix the yolks and cream together vigorously until they are blended and a pale buttery yellow, 2-3 minutes.
Temper the egg yolks
Place the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until bubbles form around the edges, the liquid just begins to ripple in the center, and the sugar is dissolved, 4-5 minutes. Do not boil. Remove the pan from the heat. Begin whisking the egg yolk mixture with one hand while slowly pouring one-fourth of the hot milk mixture into the yolks with the other (this is called tempering). When one-fourth of the hot milk mixture has been blended into the yolks, pour the warmed yolk mixture back into the saucepan, whisking constantly until well blended.
Cook and strain the custard
Place the saucepan with the milk-and-yolk mixture over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for 4-5 minutes. The custard should come to a bare simmer, but it should not boil. It’s ready when it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and if you draw your finger along the spoon, it leaves a trail. Remove from the heat. Set a fine mesh sieve over a bowl. Pour the hot custard through the sieve, pressing the liquid through with the back of the spoon and leaving any grainy solids in the sieve along with the vanilla bean pod. Discard the pod or reuse.
Cool the custard
Fill a large mixing bowl halfway with ice cubes and enough water just to cover. Place the bowl with the custard into the large bowl, nestling it into the ice cubes. Let the custard cool, stirring occasionally, until it reaches room temperature, 30-45 minutes. Once the custard has cooled to room temperature, remove the medium bowl from the ice-water bath.
Chill the custard
Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the custard is well chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours. A well-chilled custard will freeze more effectively and have a better flavor.
Churn the ice cream
Prepare an ice cream maker with at least a 1-quart (1-l) capacity according to the manufacturer’s directions. Remove the plastic wrap from the custard and bowl. Pour the well-chilled custard into the mixing container of the ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s directions until the custard reaches the consistency of thick whipped cream. The timing will depend on the type of machine you are using and the temperature of the custard.
Store the ice cream
The ice cream can be served immediately, directly from the mixing container, but it will be very soft, with a mild flavor. For a fuller flavor and a firmer consistency more like that of traditional ice cream, use a rubber spatula to transfer the ice cream to a plastic freezer container. Cover tightly and freeze until the ice cream is firm, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days. It is best served 6 to 12 hours after begin transferred to the freezer.
Serve the ice cream
To serve the ice cream, dip an ice cream scoop into hot water and warm briefly. Pull the scoop across the ice cream to form a rounded scoop. Store any remaining ice cream, tightly covered, in the freezer.
Use the same custard base above to make other ice cream flavors! Here are some of our favorites.
Espresso: Instead of adding the vanilla bean and pod, stir in 1/4 cup (1/2 oz./15 g) coarsely ground espresso. Proceed with the recipe to make the custard and churn the ice cream. Give it an extra jolt of flavor by pouring a spoonful or two of Kahlua over each serving. You can also add 1/2 cup (1/2 oz./15 g) chopped chocolate-covered coffee beans during the last 5 minutes of churning.
Cinnamon: Instead of adding the vanilla bean and pod, stir in one 3-inch (7.5 cm) cinnamon stick or 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon. Proceed with the recipe to make the custard and churn the ice cream (be sure to remove the cinnamon stick before you start churning.
Vanilla-Chocolate Swirl: Make 1 batch of the French Vanilla ice cream and a batch of chocolate sauce (let cool to room temperature). Using an offset spatula, layer about one-fifth of the ice cream in a deep 1 1/2-qt. (1.5-l) freezerproof container. Spread 1/4-1/3 cup (2-3 fl. oz./60-80 ml) of the sauce on top of the ice cream. Repeat the layering process to use all of the ice cream and one-half to three-fourths of the chocolate sauce, ending with a layer of ice cream. Save the remaining sauce for another use. Cover tightly and freeze for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days. To serve, scoop down through several layers to form the swirls.
Caramel: In a deep, 2-qt. saucepan, combine 3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g) granulated sugar, 2 Tbs. water, 2 tsp. light corn syrup and 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice. Warm over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the liquid is clear and bubbling, 1-2 minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and boil gently, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is a rich amber. Remove from the heat and slowly pour 3/4 cup (6 fl. oz./180 ml) heavy cream into the caramel, stirring until smooth. If it isn’t smooth, return to low heat and stir again until smooth. Let cool to room temperature.
In a small saucepan, stir together 1/1 2 cups (12 fl. oz./375 ml) whole milk and 3/4 cup (6 fl. oz./180 ml) heavy cream. Stir in the caramel mixture. Warm over medium heat, stirring often, until small bubbles form around the edges. Remove from the heat. In a small bowl, whisk together 6 large egg yolks and 1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml) heavy cream until blended. Whisk one-fourth of the caramel-milk mixture into the yolks. Then whisk the yolk mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining caramel-ilk mixture. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened, 4-5 minutes. Proceed with the recipe starting at the step where you cool the custard, then churn and serve.