I have long resented the use of the word "vanilla" to mean bland, blah, and boring. Real vanilla is deep and complex. The white soft-serve that too often passes for "vanilla" is a sorry imitation of one of the great ice cream flavors.
Vanilla, especially in bean form, has a dark, rich flavor that makes for an extraordinarily sophisticated dessert. In this recipe, the other spices highlight elements of the vanilla bean's flavor that we don't usually encounter: the black peppercorns' spiciness, the black cardamom's smokiness, and the cinnamon's earthiness. The vanilla, though, is undoubtedly the star of the show. Anyone who thinks vanilla is boring hasn't tasted this ice cream.
A note about choosing and buying vanilla beans: The best vanilla beans are soft and pliant, and should give when you squeeze them. They'll have a slightly oily exterior and an incredible aroma. They come from all around the world: Madagascar, Tahiti, Mexico, and like all foods, beans from each country of origin will have a slightly different flavor. You'll find the best prices on vanilla beans if you order them online, and they'll be shipped to you shrink-wrapped. Wrap them in plastic and refrigerate them after opening, and they'll last for months.
- 2 vanilla beans, scraped, with pods reserved
- 1.5 cups milk
- 1.5 cups heavy cream
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 black cardamom pod
- 2-3 green cardamom pods
- 1 stick cinnamon, ideally the chinese variety that resembles tree bark
- 2 petals star anise
- 2 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- A pinch of grated nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon dark rum, bourbon, or scotch.
Heat the milk, cream, vanilla (pods and seeds), alcohol and spices in a heavy pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.
Ribbon the egg yolks and sugar, and temper into the warm dairy mixture. Cook until it thickened, and it holds a line on a spoon. Pour through a strainer, and chill in the refrigerator at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Spin in your ice cream machine, and enjoy!
Ice cream machine