Thomas Jefferson first encountered ice cream as the ambassador to France, and brought back a special French ice cream maker, called a sorbétière, to Monticello. Ice was harvested from the Rivanna River in the winter and stored in Monticello’s ice house, then used throughout the year to preserve meat and butter, but also to chill wine and make ice cream. (Jefferson lamented not being able to get real vanilla beans for his dessert.)
This recipe is based on one Jefferson wrote in his own hand after “discovering” ice cream, and is considered the first ice cream recipe recorded by an American. Jefferson’s original recipe called for all cream, but I recommend substituting one cup of milk for cream, as I have done below.
- 6 egg yolks (look for deep orange-colored ones)
- 1 cup white sugar
- 3 cups cream
- 1 cup milk
- 1 vanilla bean
Add the egg yolks and sugar to a small bowl. Hand whisk until the egg yolks are incorporated into the sugar. Set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, add the cream, milk, and vanilla bean and place over medium heat. Slowly heat the mixture until small bubbles begin to appear around the edge of the pan. Remove from the heat. Cool enough to remove the vanilla bean and open the pod to scrape the seeds into the mixture.
Whisking all the time, slowly and gradually pour the warm milk/cream mixture into the egg/sugar mixture. Return to the saucepan. Stirring constantly, reheat the mixture over low heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat a spoon. This is a custard, sometimes called an ice mix. Do not let the mixture boil or it will curdle. Remove from the heat and let cool.
For the best results, age the custard by refrigerating overnight. This will improve the whipping qualities of the mix and the finished body and texture of the ice cream.
When the custard mix is chilled, add the mixture to your ice cream maker, remembering that the mixture will almost double in volume as the stirring blades churn air into the mixture, and process according to manufacturer’s instructions. If you want to make a flavored ice cream, add about 1 1/2 cup of pre-prepared and chilled fruit puree to the custard about 10 minutes after churning has started.