Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Affair of the Vanilla Bean

So, if you've been following things on Facebook or Twitter, you know we've been on an ice cream making kick.

I made lavender ice cream. Danny made vanilla. Actually, he was intending to make cookies and cream, but this was the kind of seriously eggy, custardy, vanilla beany ice cream that we were loathe to put Oreos in to, so we didn't.

I ate it over nectarines. Danny ate it with chocolate sauce. It was perfection either way.

My lavender ice tasted like plant. Strongly like plant. I knew I was kind of generous with the tablespoon of dried petals I used to infuse the cream, but when your ice cream tastes of sweetened soap, there's a problem.

(Side note: I still like idea of lavender ice cream, but I think the addition of 1/2 of a vanilla bean and a serious decrease of petals, and a scant pinch of salt will give it a more rounded flavor. I'll letcha know how that goes.)

Anyway, we ate all the vanilla ice cream. I wanted more. I scraped away at our remaining vanilla bean (left over from infusing the sugar for my sister-in-law's bridal shower last year), stirred the cream over the stove, beat the eggs and superfine sugar, tempered the eggs, and returned everything to the pot, over medium heat, so the thing would simmer until "thick enough to coat a spoon."

I hate the phrase "thick enough to coat a spoon." Coat for how long? How thick? Winter coat? Spring jacket?

And then the thing separated on me. Suddenly, it looked like the illegitimate offspring of tapioca pudding and corn grits. I don't know why (I have my theories), but there is nothing in the recipe that told me to do anything differently.

Feeling like I'd just ruined the batch, I began to make plans to start over. This is a labor of love as well as the action born from desperation, because it was 90 degrees outside and standing over a hot stove, even with our freestanding A/C on, still isn't my idea of perfection.

I'd made a trip to Wal-Mart earlier in the day to restock on cream and whole milk. I'd looked for vanilla beans. There were none.

So I went to Albertsons, where I found a bottle with a single vanilla bean. It was $12.34. One bean.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't take it home and make the most expensive ice cream on the planet, especially since I had designs on two other batches, and I really didn't want to spend $37.02 on three batches of ice cream.

I went to Win-Co, to see if they had cheaper beans. They didn't. They had no beans.

I called Trader Joe's - no beans.

I drove up Beltline to Delta Highway to Market of Choice. In the spice aisle - one bean, $8.83(ish). Better. Kind of.

In bulk?

$2.25. Each.

I bought four.

They're not Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. They were not cultivated by monks. They were not fertilized by fire berries. They were not shipped to the country cradled in a bed of silk.

But they're $2.25 each. I. Don't. Care.

P.S. I churned up the lumpy custard. It came out perfectly.


  1. Okay Hillary...
    So cool, you love God, write great things..and your blogs always make me laugh, even when talking about very serious topics like "Vanilla bean-gate" :) :) :) OH, hey, another blogger friend of mine, Kristen...she has been posting a lot about homemade ice cream. You might want to check it out..

    I normally would never post a link, but some of her recipes are really good, thought you might be interested. I tend to stay away from the ice cream because of the dairy...BUT, I do buy a product called "Coconut Bliss"...It's great!!! ice cream like dessert made from coconut milk!!! It's a good non-dairy/non-soy's tastes great...but the color kind of remidns me of Elmer's Glue...
    Anyway, glad everything turned out okay with dessert!!! Hugs from Southern Oregon, Heather :)

  2. Ice cream ingredients are expensive sometimes but it is worth it.

    Just read your book and enjoyed it. Looking forward to your next one.

  3. Sounds wonderful!! I love custardy ice cream.

    (For future reference, Costco had some beans around Christmas time that were pretty cheap, and they come in these neat glass tubes. Might be something to look for next December for your future ice cream adventures!!)

  4. Ooh...I like neat glass tubes. Thanks for the head's up!

  5. Yeah!

    I found your blog!

    I enjoyed getting to meet you at the conference! I look forward to reading my AUTOGRAPHED copy of your book. ;-)


  6. Bethany - glad you found it! I very much enjoyed getting to connect with you at the conference. Hope you had a wonderful time!

  7. I just stumbled upon your blog after making a huge amount of lumpy custard and trying to figure out (online) if it will taste okay...
    I've decided that it's probably because I wasn't stirring the thing constantly. Anyway, I'll try churning it and hope it turns out as good as yours did!

  8. Jackie -

    Hope it turned out! I finally made my first batch of non-lumpy custard. The two previous times I let the custard stay at a low boil for a moment or two - and I think that's what did it. I think it overheats the egg and that's what leads to it becoming lumpy. By the third batch, I yanked the pot off the burner at the first sign of a boil. The custard was perfect.

    Good luck!


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