This is the easiest vanilla ice cream recipe ever.
You should make it now before you are priced out of the vanilla aisle!
During normal times, vanilla, approximately 80% of which is produced in the hardscrabble African island-nation of Madagascar, is the second most expensive spice in the world (saffron is first).
If you haven’t been paying attention, though, these aren’t normal times. Along with the myriad other crises du jour, we’re in the midst of a real vanilla crisis. The price of vanilla beans has skyrocketed in the last five years from $11 a pound in 2011 to $272 a pound this month–a result of the growing world demand for natural vanilla, the devastating Cyclone Enawo with its 130 mile-an-hour winds that destroyed as much 30% of Madagascar’s crop last year, and cut-throat international competition for Madagascar’s crop. Add political instability and unremitting poverty to the mix and it is understandable that desperate Malagasy farmers have been pushed to the edge–harvesting under-ripe beans for a quick sale and short circuiting the normal lengthy curing process to the detriment of vanilla bean quality. And then there are the vanilla thieves…
Grow your own? Not likely. Vanilla thrives mostly in the tropics. Even there, it takes three years for a vanilla plant to mature and produce a vanilla orchid flower. If that isn’t daunting enough, a vanilla bean pod is only produced on an orchid plant when the flower has been hand-pollinated (there is no proper bee pollinator on the island) and the vanilla flower is only open for one part of one day. Once pollinated, the flower produces a vanilla pod that takes eight to nine months to mature. Then, it takes another six months of the bean pods to properly cure. No instant gratification here.
Here are two photos of a vanilla plant–a Madagascar-grown plant and my plant. You can tell which plant is mine. There. Is. No. Flower.
Trust me. It isn’t that I haven’t given it the old Blue Cayenne college try. I have been diligently growing this vanilla orchid plant in my tiny backyard greenhouse for about five years. In those five years, I’ve had one tiny flower bud. One.
And oh did I pamper that little bud. I kept the vine in a protected corner of the greenhouse. I whispered honeyed words of encouragement to the sweet little bud. I watered it with Trader Joe’s best bottled water. To my delight, the little cream-colored bud swelled and I could see flower petals forming. My vanilla bud was living the good life and it seemed to thrive. (Woo-hoo!)
And then one dark morning my vanilla dream crashed. I found the unopened (and unpollinated) bud lying shriveled and lifeless on the floor of my greenhouse. Juliet had to cover her innocent little ears.
Here is a recipe for vanilla ice cream adapted from the New York Times’ 4200+ recipe collection. Whatever the expense, it is worth using quality vanilla in this recipe.
Here is a product recommendation, too. I am using Massey’s Madagascar Vanilla Paste for this ice cream and for many of the things I’m cooking right now. You can substitute it one for one for vanilla extract. It is pricey but sublime–full of tiny vanilla seeds. As a result, your ice cream will be flecked with vanilla beans, a visual enhancement that I’m convinced improves the enjoyment of your ice cream.
Here is a link to the vanilla paste offered on the Amazon site : Massey Vanilla Bean Paste at Amazon
The paste is also available at Sur La Table and through King Arthur Flour. At the moment, as your personal shopper, I can tell you that the best price is at Amazon–$18.99 for 4 oz.
I’ve found that my 4 oz. bottle has lasted me quite a while, but this vanilla ice cream recipe may be a costly game changer.
Yields 1 Quart
- 2 C. heavy cream
- 2 C. half-and-half
- 1/2 T. vanilla bean paste or the seeds of 1/2 a vanilla bean
- 1 C. granulated sugar
- 1/2 t. salt
- Heat cream, half-and-half and vanilla in a saucepan until it comes to a simmer. When it begins to simmer, immediately take it off the heat.
- Add sugar and salt to the heated liquid and stir until the sugar is dissolved. This will only take about a minute. (You can taste the ice cream batter at this point and adjust the sugar and/or salt to your taste. Be advised, though, that the batter should taste very sweet. It will mellow as it is churned and frozen in your freezer.)
- Refrigerate the batter for several hours until it is very cold.
- Prepare in your ice cream maker according to your manufacturer's instructions. Serve immediately or put into an airtight container and freeze until the ice cream is hard.