Real vanilla, the slender, brown, gently moist, intensely aromatic seed pod from a tropical orchid is anything but unremarkable. I bought three of those gorgeous things from Penzey's just two days ago and when I gently pulled the rubber stopper from the glass test tube they'd been nestled in, they filled the whole kitchen with their rich perfume.
My recipe is a bastard child of a couple of the ice cream recipes in How to Cook Everything. I like a cooked egg custard, but I'm not doing three or four egg yolks... and our little one quart freezer won't handle the volumes Bittman used in his book. So I've fudged it. Alton Brown did an episode of Good Eats on ice cream and the chemistry involved. *grins* I love that show, and it influenced, a little, the amount of time this spends curing in the fridge before getting frozen.
I cut one vanilla bean in half, and returned one half into the tube.
1/2 vanilla bean
2 cups half and half
1 large egg
pinch of salt
1/2 cup vanilla sugar (split into two quarter cups)
The half I held, I split in half lengthwise, and then scraped all the seeds out and put the seeds in a pan with in with a cup of half and half from the local dairy, and a quarter cup of "vanilla sugar". The skin of the pod is what made the vanilla sugar, as I just tuck both halves of the skins into a cup of plain sugar, and it makes the whole jar of sugar nearly as fragrant as the pod itself.
While that mixture heated, I beat one egg with another quarter cup of the vanilla sugar and a pinch of salt until the mixture was thick and lemon-colored. When the pan started giving off steam, I started stirring the egg mixture and poured a generous dollop of the hot liquid into the egg to temper it before putting the egg into the hot mixture and stirring thoroughly until it thickened to coat the back of the spoon I was using.
Then I added another cup of cold half and half to help the whole thing cool. A quick bath in ice water, with a little stirring, and then the whole pot went into the refrigerator to cool. I did this around lunch time.
So after dinner, Jet and I setup the little Braun freezer, and got it going, and he dumped the custard into the freezer and we set a timer and played Okami until the ice cream was almost done. John found it right when the engine seized and started going back on itself. He served up bowls for the three of us and Jet waxed lyrical on how tasty and wonderful it was, even if it was real vanilla. I'd bought a rather more stale pod from the grocery store earlier in the summer and he hadn't liked it nearly as much. With the egg and real half and half, it had that beautiful mouth feel that only real cream can give, and the richness of and egg custard. The vanilla itself was floral, smooth, intense, and rich in conjunction with the other flavors, reaching up into the sinuses with its heady aroma. *sighs* It was really, really good.
There's just a bit left that actually gets to cure a bit before tomorrow, but I'm sure it'll be gone before tomorrow's over.