How to make your own ice cream, it isn't as hard as you think

Aug 24, 2017 at 12:50 pm | Print View

Making homemade ice cream is an enduring pastime, even as local ice cream parlors dot the landscape and commercial makers highlight premium ingredients in creative combinations.

There’s the social aspect of gathering in anticipation, especially if you’re using an old-fashioned machine that requires salt and ice for freezing. For children, it’s part science lesson and part excruciating test of patience with a sweet reward.

In its most humble form, homemade ice cream is a sweetened mixture of dairy products churned to incorporate air. Usually eaten freshly made, homemade ice cream has a billowy soft-serve consistency. Enjoyed with friends and family in the backyard, it can’t be beat.

But those leftovers, should any remain, become positively rock-hard after a day in the freezer.

Enter the recent pioneers of ice cream — recipe developers, amateur food scientists and home cooks pursuing the “ultimate” flavor and texture. Thanks to their focus on perfection and problem-solving, we know a little more about the best ingredients, ratios and techniques for homemade ice cream.

That rock-hard texture is caused first by our own home freezers which are kept at temperatures colder than your local ice cream shop, where the ice cream has to be scoopable.

The other reason is ice. Dairy products contain a certain amount of water. To reduce the formation of ice crystals, a little alcohol can be added to the mixture. David Lebovitz, blogger and author of “The Perfect Scoop,” uses a touch of vodka or liqueur in many of his recipes, approximately one tablespoon per quart. Plain gelatin, too, can be incorporated into an ice cream mixture before freezing to reduce iciness.

Sugar tends to create a more solid ice cream, but a portion of liquid sugar, such as agave syrup, honey or light corn syrup (not the same as high fructose corn syrup), adds softness. A dash of salt will inhibit formation while enhancing sweetness. Lebovitz’s Salted Butter Caramel Praline ice cream remains scoopable straight from the freezer.

Adding fruit to ice cream can create its own icy problems. Chunks of strawberries, for instance, are difficult to chew and aren’t as tasty in their frozen state. When sweetened and pureed, though, the fruit softens and releases its juices for more flavor.

Pastry chef Dana Cree, author of “Hello, My Name is Ice Cream,” brings out the flavor of peaches by lightly cooking them before creating a puree.

Other, perhaps surprising, ingredients also improve ice cream’s texture. Jeni Britton Bauer, creator of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams and author of “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home,” uses cornstarch and a touch of cream cheese in her base ice cream recipe.

But what if you cannot eat dairy products at all due to allergies or a vegan lifestyle?

Creating non-dairy ice creams that taste like the real thing has been a focus of commercial producers and recipe developers as they explore the challenges of alternative ingredients such as plant milks.

One of the newer alternative milks is made with hemp seeds. Melissa Clark of the New York Times recently published a base recipe for non-dairy ice cream using hemp milk and canned coconut milk. Cashew milk can be substituted for hemp, she says, but straight almond milk doesn’t have the same richness.

As long as we love ice cream, there will be new recipes to try and new techniques to learn.

And it’s true: Homemade ice cream can’t be beat. But maybe it can be improved.

Recipes

Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Yield: About 1 quart.

This simple recipe yields a frozen yogurt with an intense strawberry flavor, so use the best tasting berries you can find. The small but optional quantity of alcohol ensures this won’t go rock-hard in the freezer. My choice is Grand Marnier, but you can use vodka, kirsch or an eau de vie.

1 pound strawberries, rinsed, hulled and sliced

2/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons Grand Marnier, vodka, kirsch or eau de vie (optional)

1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt (see note)

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (optional, to taste)

1/4 teaspoon kosher or mineral salt

Toss sliced strawberries with sugar and alcohol until the sugar begins to dissolve. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring every so often. Then, using a blender or food processor, puree the strawberries and their juice until smooth. Add lemon juice to taste. If you prefer a smoother appearance, run this mixture through a sieve to remove seeds.

Chill for at least 1 hour, or overnight, then freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions.

Note: Greek-style yogurt produces a less icy texture because it contains less water. That being said, I’ve also used Kalona Organics’ 5 percent butterfat vanilla yogurt with great results. It produces a sweeter product with nuanced vanilla undertones.

Source: Adapted from David Lebovitz

Non-Dairy Chocolate Ice Cream

Yield: About 1 quart.

Family members who can’t eat dairy will appreciate this dessert, but everyone will love its creamy texture and rich chocolate flavor.

1 1/2 cups hemp milk

1 cup coconut cream taken from 1 (14.5-ounce) can coconut cream or whole coconut milk (not light coconut milk and not the refrigerated coconut beverage)

1/2 cup light corn syrup or 1/3 cup light agave syrup

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder

2/3 cup 70 percent cacao chocolate, chopped

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon vodka

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional garnish: 1/2 cup toasted pecans and chocolate shavings

Place chopped chocolate in a glass or other heatproof container and set aside.

In a medium sized pot, combine hemp or cashew milk, coconut cream, agave syrup, sugar, cocoa and salt, and bring to a simmer. Stir frequently with a whisk to incorporate cocoa. Simmer until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Pour mixture over chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth and allow to cool in pot. Stir in vodka, if using, and vanilla. Blend if necessary to remove any clumps.

Chill for 4 hours, or overnight, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions.

Source: Adapted from Melissa Clark

Sour Cream Ice Cream

This ice cream is legendary among my family and friends. When I recently posted on social media that I was making homemade ice cream, one out-of-state friend commented, “That’s sour cream ice cream.” This custard-style recipe yields one quart, but I’ve always doubled it to serve a crowd (and to ensure leftovers). I adapted the original recipe from 8 egg yolks to 6 — that way, it uses an even dozen eggs for the doubled version. This ice cream is a wonderful complement to fruit desserts, especially peach cobbler.

2 cups half-and-half

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large egg yolks

2 cups sour cream

Combine half-and-half, 3/4 cup of sugar and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Temper eggs by slowly adding a few spoonfuls of the hot half-and-half mixture to the eggs. Then return tempered egg mixture back to saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens and coats back of a spoon. When it reaches 170 degrees on a candy thermometer, remove from heat. Add vanilla extract.

Whisk sour cream into custard until fully combined. Strain through a sieve into container. Chill until cold, then freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer instructions.

Source: Adapted from Gourmet, January 1996

About Your Ice Cream Maker

Chilled cylinders: Freeze the cylinder for the minimum recommended amount of time. Your ice cream mixture should be well-chilled.

Traditional machine using ice and salt: Prepare a large enough batch for the container’s capacity; otherwise extra air in the container will slow down the freezing process. Make sure your mixture is chilled. If you’re making ice cream on a hot and sunny day, keep the machine out of direct sun or else it will heat up too much and the mixture won’t freeze.

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