Sam’s historical recipe corner: Vanilla ice cream

The final of The Great British Bake Off  airs on BBC One tonight. Here, we take a step back in time and recreate some historical recipes for you to try at home


In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, Sam recreates vanilla ice cream – a dessert enjoyed by an 18th-century US president.


US president Thomas Jefferson’s love of ice cream is well documented, and led to its huge popularity in the US. Jefferson was in France between 1784 and 1789 and brought back lots of exciting recipes – pigs’ feet, fruit tarts, peach flambe – including this recipe. His hand-written ice cream recipe – the first of its kind in the US – still survives today.

Traditionally ice cream would have been frozen using a salt and ice technique. I’ve included this method for those readers who fancy trying some fun food chemistry.


• 6 egg yolks

• 2 pints of cream (I used 1 of single and 1 of double)

• 250g caster sugar

• pinch salt

• 2 tsp of vanilla or one vanilla pod

• ice and salt (if you’re using this freezing method)


Beat the egg yolks until they are thick and a pale yellow colour. Add the sugar and a pinch of salt.

Pour the cream into a pan and bring to the boil. Take off the heat and slowly pour into the beaten egg mixture. Put over a pan of simmering water (or bain-marie) and let it slowly thicken until it has the consistency of custard.

Strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl. Add the vanilla and allow to cool.

Freezing using ice and salt: You’ll need a plastic tub with a lid for the ice cream, and a larger container (a small bucket is ideal) for the crushed ice and salt (three parts ice to one part salt). Put the ice cream tub into the ice and salt mixture and shake every hour or so to stop ice crystals forming. The ice and salt should react, drawing heat away and freezing the ice cream more quickly.

Freezing using a freezer: Put the tub of ice cream mix in the freezer and after around an hour give it a really good mix to get rid of any ice crystals. Continue to whisk every hour or so until the ice cream has set.


I did try the ice and salt method but I must have got my ratios wrong as it didn’t seem to set – that, or I was getting a bit impatient! I ended up popping the mix into the freezer and stirring periodically. The result was worth all the effort, though: a really indulgent vanilla treat.

Difficulty: 5/10

Time (including freezing): 6 hours

Recipe courtesy of DigVentures


This article was first published in the August 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine.