Make your own Ice Cream: Few ice cream lovers see cold dairy goop turning into ice cream before their first try. So expect your first batch of ice cream to swirl with uneasiness, along with possible slivers of skepticism. Despite the assurance of the simplest recipes, liquid-to-solid phase changes still seem like alchemy. The spinning paddle of your ice cream maker becomes hypnotic as the minute’s tick by. Don’t be surprised if you pray for an ice cream miracle. I did, as I hovered over an inexplicable premixed vanilla kit.
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But it will freeze. It always does. Slowly the cream and sugar soup will rise, frothing as ice crystals form on the mixer paddle. You still won’t believe it’s ice cream. But if the sugar content is in the ballpark and the machine is cool enough, you’ll at least get a sweet dairy slushie. Like many kitchen endeavors, making ice cream is completely unnecessary and extremely satisfying. And the process can end over the weekend, or an hour after dinner. It depends on you. Either way, you’ve still made ice cream.
Realize that making ice cream depends on an impressive amount of chemistry and physics, but any decent recipe (we offer a very good one) will have the details figured out. This means you can focus on the physical process of creating and enjoying until your stomach hurts.
Ice cream is a balanced process of fat, sugar, water, and air. You can take two days for a recipe like a professional does, whip together a scoop in 20 minutes, or choose a sensible but sweet middle ground. Here’s a breakdown of the ice cream-making process — all steps but mixing and churning are optional.
For the full tour, we’ll follow a versatile recipe from Emily Luchetti, executive pastry chef of four San Francisco restaurants and author of A Passion for Ice Cream. This vanilla recipe can be adapted to almost any flavor you like.
Step 1. Mixing and heating: In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1⁄4 cup sugar, and salt. In a heavy saucepan, combine milk, cream, remaining 1⁄4 cup sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and any other flavoring (such as mint leaves). Cook the milk mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until almost boiling. It homogenizes liquid, disperses fat, and stabilizes delicious globules with milk proteins.
Step 2. Pasteurization of Eggs: Slowly pour the liquid into the egg mixture, stirring as you add. Return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula until the custard reaches 175 degrees Fahrenheit and lightly coats the spatula. It pasteurizes raw eggs and can be omitted in eggless recipes.
Step 3. Chilling: Strain the mixture into a freezer bag or bowl, discarding the vanilla bean and other flavors. Whether you’re cooking from scratch or using a no-heat recipe, get your liquid as close to freezing as possible before stirring. The faster it can freeze in your ice cream maker, the smaller and smoother the ice crystals will feel. For a quick chill, especially if your mixture is coming off the stove, plunge it into a large bowl of ice water after straining.
Step 4. Aging: Professionals routinely age their mixtures overnight in the refrigerator. This cold rest crystallizes the fat, which helps the mixture retain air and creates a less dense ice cream. If you prefer a thicker scoop, skip it.
Step 5. Picking: Whatever your mix of fat, water, and sugar is, that’s where it becomes ice cream. Virtually every machine works the same way: the mixture is poured into a metal bowl surrounded by a sub-freezing cooling medium. A paddle churns the mixture, scraping the frozen layer off the sides of the bowl and mixing it back in with additional air.
Step 6. Hardening: Even in the best ice cream maker, only half the water will freeze at this point. Transfer the soft serve to a pre-frozen container—this is a good time to mix in candy pieces or fruit syrup—and store in your freezer for at least four hours to harden.
20-minute ice cream substitute
Pre-made mixes make ice cream in under an hour, regardless of your machine, and serve as an easy base for more creative flavors. For example Goose the Williams-Sonoma vanilla starter with a quarter cup of bourbon. The Williams-Sonoma and Triple Scoop mixes are reliably delicious, but will be icy due to the lack of egg yolks and are less fun than making them from scratch.
Now, customize the recipe
How to Add Spirits
Most quart recipes can accommodate two ounces of wine before freezing drops significantly. Bourbon is an easy complement to vanilla. The spirit’s oak barrel aging lends its vanilla character.
How to add fruit
Reduce the amount of water in fresh fruit so that it does not freeze solid. Brian Smith, the founder of Brooklyn’s popular Ample Hills Creamery, offers two options: Sprinkle the fruit with sugar overnight, then squeeze out the juice—save it for lemonade or cocktails. Or put the fruit in a saucepan (sugar optional) and boil the water to make the syrup.
How to Add Beer
Beer is also high in water. For the quart recipe, Jack Godby, co-owner of the occasional Avant Garde (like foie gras ice cream sandwich), Humphrey Slocombe recommends taking eight ounces of beer and boiling it down to four ounces. A chocolate base—perfect for stouts and porters—also absorbs more liquid thanks to cocoa solids.
How to add something else
Add it to the milk in her recipe, says Smith, who uses 15-minute toasted bread to make cinnamon toast ice cream.
How to make an ice cream empire
Ben Cohen and his business partner Jerry Greenfield never planned to build a business. Forty years later, Ben & Jerry’s is sold in 35 countries.
- How did it all begin?
- Ben Cohen: So, what can I tell you? The story goes that ice cream started with Marco Polo. He had runners who I think brought ice from cold places, and they tasted it.
- PM: Did you have this interest in ice cream before Ben & Jerry’s?
- BC: No, not really. We never planned, you know, ice cream is a big business. This was the era of homemade ice cream, like Steve’s Ice Cream in Massachusetts. We wanted just such a store.
- PM: What did the company grow into—was that a surprise to you guys?
- BC: Well, we were just trying to survive. We opened in Burlington, Vermont. It’s getting cold here. In winter, people stopped buying ice cream. We weren’t thinking about the future, there was no strategy. Vermont is not that good as a market. Not many people.
- PM: I went to school in Vermont, so I know.
- BC: Ah! Okay fine. But, it has tourists. They are introduced to our ice cream and demand it when they get home.
- PM: Madness and wanderlust, where did you get that inspiration?
- BC: Ever since I was a kid, whenever my mother served ice cream for dessert, I would get some cookies or candy. Chop them up, and swirl them in the ice cream. When I started making ice cream to do the same, it was second nature.
- PM: Do you still make ice cream at home?
- BC: For special tastes, for special people. I made “Bernie’s Yearning” for the election.
- PM: Favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor.
- BC: Last night I finished a pint of Chubby Hubby which was even better than I remembered.
What is ice cream made of?
Frozen dairy food is made with ice cream, cream or butterfat, milk, sugar, and flavors. Frozen custard and French-style ice cream also contain eggs. Hundreds of flavors have been devised, the most popular being vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry.
Is ice cream good for health?
Ice cream contains some important nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A, etc. But while all of these nutrients are needed for good health, ice cream is low in amounts and high in fat and sugar.