Virginia Willis Screams for Homemade Ice Cream

Photo of Virginia Willis by Angie Mosier
Photo of Virginia Willis by Angie Mosier

We’re thrilled to introduce you to our newest guest blogger, Virginia Willis. She is the first and (so far) only SFA contributor whose bio includes this line: “Virginia Willis has cooked Lapin Normandie with Julia Child, prepared lunch for President Clinton, and catered a bowling party for Jane Fonda.” Willis is the author of cookbooks Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y’all. She is a contributing editor to Southern Living and a frequent contributor to Taste of the South. Willis has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, Martha Stewart Living Television, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. In addition to the SFA, she is an active member of several educational and nonprofit organizations including the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s advisory board, Georgia Organics, and Les Dames d’Escoffier.

As guest blogger for the SFA for the next 8 weeks, I’ve decided to explore a collection of iconic Summer Foods of the South. My plan is to share a little history and a few recipes that I hope you will enjoy. This week, we’re starting with ice cream. Coming up, I’ll feature corn, tomatoes, squash, peas & beans, okra, peaches, and finish up right before Labor Day with a barbecued Boston butt. I just get hungry thinking about it.

Ice cream has a magical quality. One lick of an ice cream cone instantly brings back memories of childhood. Remember when all of life’s happiness seemed to rest solely upon the questions “one scoop or two?” and “plain or sugar cone?” Remember the painful ache of a paralyzing brain freeze because you’d eaten your ice cream too fast?  How about listening to the rhythmic surge of the ice cream maker while impatiently waiting on the screened-in porch for an adult to pronounce that it was ready? Ice cream has long mesmerized those requiring refreshment on a blistering hot summer day. There are some foods that have a powerful connection to summer seemingly on a genetic level, and ice cream is one of them.

making vanilla ice cream
Ice cream photos (here and below) courtesy of Virginia Willis

So, let’s get started. Centuries ago, ice was hauled down from the mountains and stored in icehouses, then sweetened to create “sherbets” for ancient Persian rulers. It’s funny to think about, because ice cream is one of those things we can just take for granted—there’s ice cream sold at the corner convenience store. It’s cold and it tastes great in the summer. Think about ice cream when ice was in the Alps, not in your kitchen freezer. Frankly, I think the history of ice cream is nothing less than the culinary mastery of time and temperature.

There’s nothing like the old-fashioned metal chamber-style ice cream maker that uses coarse ice and salt, but the truth is there are so many varieties of ice cream makers on the market that it’s really easy to simply whip up a batch. If you need inspiration, take a peek at the ingredient list on some of those “home-style” ice creams in your grocer’s freezer. They read more like a chemistry manual than an ingredient list.

I’m starting with classic vanilla and chocolate. Most of my ice creams are some version of a crème anglaise. You can play with the fat percent of the dairy—ice cream made with heavy cream or half and half is richer and fattier than ice cream made with milk. Milk can be whole or low fat. Too much fat and the ice cream is heavy, too little and it’s too icy. I made the vanilla recipe entirely with 2% milk last week. While not as luxurious or unctuous as full-fat, it’s still homemade ice cream and it’s summertime, which means it’s still pretty darn good.

Bon Appétit Y’all!

—Virginia Willis


Makes 1 1/2 quarts

3 cups milk or 2 cups milk and 1 cup of heavy cream or half and half

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

8 large egg yolks

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Vanilla bean

Place the milk and vanilla bean into a medium saucepan, over medium heat. Bring the mixture just to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and remove from the heat. To prepare an ice bath, fill a large bowl with ice. Place a smaller bowl on top. Set aside.

Creme Anglaise for vanilla ice cream

In a medium mixing bowl whisk the egg yolks until pale yellow. Gradually add the sugar and whisk to combine. Temper the milk mixture into the eggs and sugar by gradually adding small amounts, until about a third of the milk mixture has been added. Pour in the remainder and return the entire mixture to the saucepan and place over low heat. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon and reaches 170°F.

Pour the mixture into the bowl chilling on ice. Stir with a spatula until well-chilled, about 15 minutes. Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. (This should take approximately 25 to 35 minutes.) Serve as is for soft serve or freeze for another 3 to 4 hours to allow the ice cream to harden.


Peach Ice Cream – add 4 peaches, scrubbed, pitted, and pureed when chilling the mixture over the bowl of ice. Freeze according to manufacturing instructions.

scooping chocolate ice cream
This chocolate ice cream can be served as a soft-serve or hard-scoop style, depending on how long you freeze it.


Makes 1 quart

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups light cream

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1 cup 2% or whole milk

1/4 cup strong brewed coffee

4 large egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

To prepare an ice bath, fill a large bowl with ice. Place a smaller bowl on top. Set aside.

Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Bring 1/2 cup of the cream to a simmer. Pour the cream over the chocolate. Let it sit for several minutes, then slowly stir the cream into the chocolate. Once it’s smooth, add the cocoa powder to the chocolate cream. Set aside.

Heat the milk and remaining 1/2 cup of cream to a simmer in a saucepan. In a bowl, blend together the egg yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt with a wooden spoon until thick and light, being careful not to make the mixture foamy.

Pouring chocolate into ice cream base

Whisk in half the hot milk, then whisk the mixture back into the remaining milk. Heat gently, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the coffee. Continue stirring the custard until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon and it reaches 170°F on an instant-read thermometer.

Remove from the heat and immediately strain into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve. Add the reserved chocolate mixture to the strained custard and stir to combine. Place the mixture over the ice bath and chill until completely chilled.

Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. (This should take approximately 25 to 35 minutes.) Serve as is for soft serve or freeze for another 3 to 4 hours to allow the ice cream to harden.