French Vanilla Ice Cream

This French vanilla ice cream is made the old-fashioned way with a rich egg yolk custard, heavy cream, and flecks of vanilla seeds. Pure, simple, and knee-wobbling delicious.

A white bowl filled with French vanilla ice cream with a blue spoon resting beside.

What’s so French about French vanilla ice cream? While regular vanilla ice cream can be made with or without eggs, there’s no question that French vanilla is made with a custardy base rich with ample egg yolks, which impart that iconic yellow tint to the ice cream. Plus it’s almost always made with vanilla seeds resulting in those enigmatic and intriguing dark flecks punctuating the creamy ice cream.–Renee Schettler Rossi

French Vanilla Ice Cream

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • Makes 8 (1/2-cup) servings
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Special Equipment: Ice cream maker



In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk, 1/4 cup sugar, and vanilla seeds and pod, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture registers 175°F (80°C) on a candy or deep-fry thermometer, 3 to 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a stand mixer or a whisk, beat the remaining sugar with the yolks until the mixture turns pale yellow and thickens so that it falls away in ribbons, about 2 minutes with an electric mixer or 4 minutes with a whisk.

Slowly whisk 1/2 cup hot milk from pan into the beaten yolks. Then gradually whisk the yolk mixture into the hot milk in the saucepan.

Stirring constantly, heat the mixture over medium-low heat until it registers 180°F (82°C), 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the custard into a plastic or nonreactive metal bowl. Stir in the cream. Retrieve the vanilla pod from the strainer and add it to the custard. Place the bowl of custard in a larger bowl of ice water to quickly bring the custard to room temperature.

Cover and refrigerate the custard until it is no more than 40°F, 4 to 8 hours.

Remove the vanilla pod and pour the custard into an ice cream machine. Churn according to the manufacturer’s directions until frozen, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately or transfer to a resealable container and freeze for up to several weeks. Originally published April 27, 2000.

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    What You Need To Know About Substituting Vanilla Extract for The Vanilla Bean

    • You can swap 2 tablespoons vanilla extract for the vanilla bean. Simply stir it into the chilled custard just before churning.

    Recipe Testers' Reviews

    A fabulous creamy texture and rich vanilla flavor even without the vanilla bean. I decided to make this at the last minute and didn't have a vanilla bean so I followed the directions for adding the vanilla extract just before churning in my ice cream maker. The recipe was easy to follow and the finished ice cream was delicious. It paired perfectly with a warm brownie!

    This French vanilla ice cream is a classic with simple ingredients and well thought out techniques. This is exactly what a good vanilla ice cream should taste like and the texture is a dream.

    There's a lot of chemistry at work to ensure a silky smooth ice cream with well proportioned flavors. It is important to follow the instructions and not get in a hurry. You are making a custard and a good custard takes time. A couple of things I want to mention is it really does take 8 to 10 minutes to get the temp back up to 180°F. Mine stalled at 170°F, if yours should don't be tempted to turn up the heat. It will get there. Also, I used a heat-resistant rubber spatula to keep the custard from sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is not a complicated recipe. From start to finish I had my custard in the refrigerator in less than 30 minutes. It was very well worth it, too.

    I enjoyed eating the ice cream as is, but I decided to make this recipe for chocolate cookies and I used a small scoop to get 2 1/2-inch cookies. Once they were cooled, I made miniature ice cream sandwiches. It was a great combination and the small size was perfect for a little treat.


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