Vanilla Ice Cream + How to Make Custard

On the scale of intimidating dishes, the word “custard” doesn’t usually induce palpitations the way “souffle” does.

But there’s a bit of trepidation in the home cookosphere anytime the idea of heating egg yolks comes into play.

And it just shouldn’t be that way. Chances are, you’ve already successfully whipped up a custard without realizing it.

vanilla ice cream cone
Photo: Casey Barber

Do you stir a little cream into your eggs with a fork before scrambling them? Hey, you’re technically making a custard and taking it a step further.

Have you ever whisked up a few eggs and a cup of milk before pouring it over some bread cubes for a bread pudding or strata? That’s a custard too.

As the inimitable Alton Brown explains it, a custard is simply “any cooked combination of egg and liquid.”

It’s the act of whisking eggs into another wet substance (usually milk or cream), and then using heat to bind the clever little proteins in the egg with the liquid and fat together into a smooth, softly-textured solid.

So what else can you can make with custard? Oh, how about…

  • ice cream
  • pot de crème
  • crème brulée, crème caramel, and flan
  • bread puddings galore
  • old-fashioned rice pudding
  • quiches, stratas, and fluffy frittatas
  • citrus curds, like my one true love, lemon curd
  • pie fillings like chocolate cream, fruit chiffon, and sugar-cream Hoosier pie

The baked-custard preparation is pretty simple to accomplish, as seen in any dish that asks you to whisk eggs and dairy together and then add them to a casserole.

Like the aforementioned bread pudding or a quiche.

Pesto quiche of the Eighties, in honor of Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby in When Harry Met Sally.
Photo: Casey Barber

The stovetop method, usually found on the dessert side of the spectrum in recipes like crème brulée and ice cream, has two crucial steps that you’ve got to follow for custard greatness.

But it’s a technique that takes just once to learn, and this recipe is a perfect introduction.

The following vanilla ice cream recipe, from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein, uses the basic techniques of scalding and tempering to create a custard base on the stovetop.

vanilla ice cream sundae
Photo: Casey Barber

It also uses whole eggs instead of multiple egg yolks, which eases my guilt about sending excess egg whites down the drain.

Scalding is just another word for heating the milk before mixing it with the eggs.

The warm liquid brings the temperature of the entire mixture up more quickly, which means less time on the burner/in the oven (if you’re doing a flan/brulée), and less of a chance to overcook the whole thing.

Tempering the eggs is a very simple process akin to drizzling oil into a vinaigrette.

This technique makes it easier to incorporate two ingredients that would otherwise hate each other and create a nasty substance if you dumped them in all at once.

vanilla ice cream cone

In this case, by dribbling the hot milk slowly and whisking quickly, you’re evenly increasing the temperature across the board so the eggs won’t scramble.

Making custard and tempering eggs for vanilla ice cream or other dessert recipes is an easy technique. Learn it once, make lots of sweets!

vanilla ice cream cone

Vanilla Ice Cream

Yield: 1 quart
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Additional Time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours 40 minutes

Vanilla ice cream is an easy and sweet way to learn the technique of tempering eggs to make a simple custard. Use this base recipe and add mix-ins to your heart's content!


  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract


  1. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs together until they're thickened, light in color and no longer gritty.
  2. Stir in the flour and salt.
  3. Bring the milk just to a bare simmer in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. It will be steaming and small bubbles will start to form around the edges of the pan.
  4. Temper the egg mixture by ladling 1/2 to 3/4 cup milk into the eggs in a thin, steady stream while whisking vigorously.
  5. Pour the egg/milk combo back into the pan.
  6. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly without allowing it to come to a boil.
  7. Like making lemon curd, you'll notice a slow but steady change in the thickness and texture of the liquid, from a loose and sloshy translucence to an opaque custard that feels like stirring melted ice cream.
  8. You'll also notice your spatula start to "skid" across the bottom of the pan as you reach the custard stage, notifying you that the eggs are doing the protein emulsion dance and the bottom of the pan is developing a thin layer of cooked custard.

    Don't panic—when you feel this, you'll know you're about a minute away from doneness.
  9. Pour the hot custard through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl to remove any bits of cooked egg and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  10. Stir in the cream and vanilla, then cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 4 hours or overnight.
  11. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions. (If you're adding mix-ins, do that during the last 2 minutes of churning time.)
  12. Scoop into a freezer-safe container and freeze again for at least 4 hours to firm up before scooping and serving.
  13. Top with any of your favorite sauces, candies, cookies, whipped cream, cherries—you know the drill.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 6 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 213Total Fat: 18gSaturated Fat: 11gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 113mgSodium: 149mgCarbohydrates: 7gFiber: 0gSugar: 5gProtein: 5g

The nutritional information above is computer-generated and only an estimate.

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