Creme anglaise is a classic French custard sauce made with egg yolks, sugar and milk or cream (as well as vanilla for flavoring) that is cooked until just thickened. This sauce can be served on its own as a dessert accompaniment, alongside fruit or cake, but it can also be put to other uses and one of the very best is when you put it into an ice cream maker and turn it into ice cream. This type of ice cream is often termed “French vanilla” and stands apart from other vanilla ice creams because of its rich custard flavor and high egg yolk content. Homemade ice cream starting with a true creme anglaise base is one of the best ice creams you can eat.
Creme anglaise itself is not difficult to make. A combination of egg yolks and sugar is tempered with hot milk, and the mixture is cooked in a double boiler until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. You can make your own double boiler easily with a bowl and a small saucepan, and using one will prevent your custard from overcooking while you thicken it. I typically infuse the milk with a vanilla bean and scape the seeds into it before adding it to the rest of the ingredients for a strong vanilla flavor, but you can substitute vanilla extract by simply whisking it into the finished creme anglaise just before cooling.
You really do need an ice cream maker for the best results with this recipe (although you can certainly make the creme anglaise, chill it and enjoy it on its own!) because an ice cream maker will allow you to achieve a very smooth ice cream. This ice cream has a delicious, rich vanilla flavor and a fantastic texture. Unlike ice creams that are made with less fat (using fewer/no egg yolks), this ice cream is always scoopable and creamy – even straight out of the freezer. It is best served in small portions, but that just makes the enjoyment last longer.
Homemade French Vanilla Ice Cream
1 quart milk (low fat or whole)
1/2 vanilla bean, split
12 large egg yolks (8-oz)
1 cup + 2 tbsp sugar (8-oz)
In a medium saucepan, combine milk and vanilla bean and bring mixture to a simmer. Turn off heat and let stand for 30 minutes. Scrape vanilla bean seeds out with a knife and add back to milk. Remove the bean itself. Bring milk back up to a simmer.
Whisk together egg yolks and sugar until smooth. When milk reaches a simmer again, remove it from the heat and very gradually pour it into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. This is best done by only adding a few tablespoons at a time until at least half of the mixture has been incorporated, then adding the rest more quickly. Strain mixture into the bowl of a double boiler.
Place the bowl onto a double boiler filled with just-simmering water. Stir the custard gently with a spatula until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes (mixture should be 185F).
Transfer creme anglaise to a new bowl, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the custard and chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
When the creme anglaise is ready, pour into an ice cream maker and make according to the machine’s directions. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.
Makes 2 1/2 pints ice cream.