I think it's wise to spend my time with the items that are going to have the greatest impact, so I'm fine with opening a bag of salad rather than triple-washing the gritty baby greens from the market if that allows me to create a spectacular cake or complicated main dish.
When it comes to dessert, ice cream is often on the menu in warm weather. Sometimes it's the star, in which case I'm willing to invest the time in doing elaborate things. But if ice cream is the bit player next to the fancy pie or cake, then I'm fine with a little shortcut or two. After all, it's still a home-churned ice cream. We don't need to tell anyone that I didn't start off with a real custard.
This simple base is also the perfect blank slate for adding things in. The last time I made it, I mixed in some caramel sauce as I scooped it into a container for hardening.
The vanilla butternut flavoring is completely optional, but I like it a lot in ice cream. It adds a buttery and just slightly nutty flavor to the ice cream without being intrusive. It's like amped up vanilla.
I've tried different brands of half-and-half, and the one you choose does make a difference. If this isn't creamy enough, consider subbing some heavy cream for some of the half-and-half. This recipe is the perfect size for the ice cream freezer bowl for my KitchenAid stand mixer. Make sure this is the correct amount for whatever freezer you are using.
Vanilla Ice Cream Base
1 quart half-and-half
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3.4 oz vanilla pudding mix (I prefer the French vanilla)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla butternut extract (optional)
Mix all ingredients until the sugar is dissolved and everything is well blended. Cover the mixture and chill in the refrigerator for several hours, or over night.
The mixture will look like it has set into a pudding. Whisk it, and it will be pourable. Freeze it in your ice cream machine, using the manufacturer's directions.