* 1-1/2 cups whole milk
* 1 2-inch piece vanilla bean
* 6 egg yolks
* 1/2 cup sugar
* Pinch of salt (optional)
* 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
The rich custard base makes this "French vanilla;" the use of whole vanilla bean gives it an intense flavor mere extract can never equal. Taste it and vanilla will never be "plain" again.
Put the milk in a heavy saucepan. Slit the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the milk, then add the pod itself. Place over medium-low heat and cook until the milk is scalded (little bubbles appear around the edge). Don't let it boil. Turn off the heat and let stand 15 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and salt until the mixture is pale and sugar is partially dissolved. Reheat the milk to just below scalding and in a slow, steady stream pour it into the yolk mixture, beating constantly to keep the yolks from curdling. Return the mixture to the pot and cook, stirring, over medium-low heat, until it thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon. Don't let it boil.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream. Pour mixture through a fine sieve into a clean container. (The vanilla bean can be rinsed and re-used; it still contains quite a bit of flavor.) Cool to room temperature, stirring from time to time to prevent a skin from forming, then chill thoroughly. Freeze according to the ice-cream maker's directions.
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