Tempering eggs when making ice cream

Many ice cream and gelato recipes, including some of my favorites, are based on an egg custard. Eggs add a signature richness of flavor that complements many other flavors, especially vanilla. Vanilla ice cream is in turn often used as a base for other flavors.

If you can make a great egg custard, you are more than half way to making great ice cream of any flavor. There are a number of different egg custard base recipes on the site that result in wonderful but significantly different tasting ice creams.

There is a small catch however, the only aspect of making ice cream that is at all temperamental and needs to be done correctly is how you handle eggs when making a custard. You have to temper them. A process of gradual heating so that they don’t prematurely cook, become essentially scrambled eggs and ruin the mix for ice cream making.

Simplest Technique of All, Don’t Temper! (Update 7/2013)

I came across this technique for cooking egg custard when reading a beer ice cream recipe post.   As long as you have the simple equipment required and consider yourself of average competence in a kitchen, there is no longer any reason to temper egg yolks.

Essential to This Technique

  • A good instant read thermometer.
  • A heavy bottom pan that conducts heat uniformly and doesn’t have any hot spots.
  • A soft rubber or silicone spatula.
  • Bring the mix up to temperature slowly, then immediately pour it into a bowl that is in an ice bath or cold water to stop the cooking process.

The technique is as simple as can be.

Set up your finishing bowl in an ice or cold water bath.

Add the ingredients you will be cooking in egg custard (typically, milk, cream, sugar, vanilla bean, egg yolks)  together in you pot while it is at room temperature on a cold burner.

Turn on the heat to medium-low and whisk them together until they are well combined.  At that point switch to the spatula and keep the mix moving, scrapping the bottom and edges, so that no cooked spots develop.

Slowly cook the custard until the temperature reaches 170°.  Immediately pour into the bowl you have waiting in an ice bath.  Stir the mix to help it cool it down quickly.  If you choose to, you can pour the mix though a sieve to remove any bits of cooked egg that may have formed.  I never do this.

Also note the range at which you want to stop cooking is between 165° – 180° F.    In my humble opinion 165° is a little on low side and 180° is pushing your luck towards scrambled eggs, but if you closely follow this technique you can experiment safely.


Classic Egg Tempering Technique

The following video by pastry chef Heather Bertinetti that I found on eHow, is an excellent break down of the classic process of egg tempering and clearly lays out easy steps for guaranteeing your egg custard bases come out perfect every time.



My Blender Egg Tempering Method. 

It occurred to me that a very simple way to solve the problem of tempering eggs when making a custard is to use a blender to combine ingredients.
For this to work you have to have a blender with a big enough jar to comfortably hold the entire combined ice cream mix. Also you need to use a saucepan with a lip for heating your milk mixture or be willing to pour the hot milk mixture from the saucepan into a heatproof pitcher or bowl with a lip which you will in turn use to pour the milk mix into the blender.
The steps go like this.
  1. Combine the egg yolks and sugar portion (according to the recipe) in the blender. This quickly gives you a beautifully combined, smooth egg mix.
  2. Heat you milk/cream/sugar mix according to the recipe, in a saucepan with a lip.
  3. Turn on the blender to a low speed and with the cap on but the pouring hole cover removed, very gradually, in a very thin stream, pour the hot milk mixture into the blending egg mixture. After a cup or two you can pour it a little faster. Once you have poured it all you can turn off the blender in 10 seconds or so.
  4. Take the blender jar by its convenient handle and pour it back into the saucepan to heat the combined mixture until thick as indicated in the recipe.
  5. Continue with the recipe.
So far I haven’t made scrambled eggs yet and the work-flow of the process to my mind is noticeably smoother.
Note using a blender adds air to your mix. Good or bad, in this case it doesn’t matter because it all gets lost again in the process of thickening the combined custard on the stove.



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