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Ice Cream StoryBoard (c)2011

Making ice cream at home is simple. The steps are few and the ingredients are pantry staples. This week in the test kitchen I was blown away by how wonderful homemade ice cream is. “Why haven’t I been doing this all along?” I thought. “I will never go out for ice cream again- this is so GOOD!” I exclaimed to the husband. Maybe that’s why most of us don’t make ice cream at home- it would result in a serious loss of control. Chaos would ensue. We would have to buy bigger pants.

Let’s not think those depressing thoughts right now. It’s summer-a happy time. Summer is a time for eating ice cream and listening to oldies on the radio (er ipod). Summer is a time for fun things like bike rides and sitting by the pool. It’s hot and ice cream is very important in keeping people cool and replacing electrolytes. Let’s go with that, shall we? Good plan.

Understanding What Ice Cream Is

The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion defines ice cream as a mixture of milk products, something sweet, and sometimes solid additions such as chocolate, nuts, or fruit. There are two basic types of ice cream: French and Philadelphia style. French-style ice cream base is a cooked custard made with egg yolks and milk/cream while Philadelphia-style is a cream/milk mixture without the eggs. Both are delicious, but French-style ice creams have a smoother, more luxurious texture while Philadelphia-style ice creams are firmer with a more toothsome texture. Even though ice cream is simple and straightforward, there is a science to it that’s important to understand for success making it at home.

I’m about to blind you with science so get ready! Here are some things to consider:

  • Ice Crystals are the Enemy

According to Kate Zuckerman (The Sweet Life), when liquids freeze they form big, sharp ice crystals that negatively affect the texture of ice cream. You want smooth and creamy ice cream not icy, crystallized ice cream-don’t you? The object of the game is to make the ice crystals small enough so that you can’t detect them in the texture of homemade ice cream. Certain ingredients affect the freezing point of the ice cream. Sugar and alcohol improve the texture of ice cream by lowering the freezing point which results in smaller ice crystals. Liquid sugars such as honey, agave, and corn syrup are more effective at inhibiting ice crystals than granulated sugar. Proteins also inhibit ice crystals and make for a smooth, soft ice cream. The protein component is the milk, cream, and eggs that form the base of any ice cream mixture. The fat found in dairy and eggs prevents ice crystals from growing. In The Sweet Life, Kate Zuckerman writes that dairy fat holds air pockets and lightens texture by increasing volume. Lastly, dairy fat contains emulsifiers that bind to other molecules for better texture and stability of the ice cream base. This is why you can’t substitute skim milk for your ice cream base. Savvy?

  • Strive for Balance

Add too much alcohol and your ice cream might not freeze at all. In The Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz suggests a general rule for adding alcohol to ice cream: add up to 3 tablespoons of 80 proof liquor to 1 quart ice cream mixture.  Too much sugar will also prevent ice cream from freezing. A heavy hand with the cream can result in a grainy ice cream.

  • Time is Important

Ideally an ice cream machine should finish churning within 15 minutes. Long churning times mean the cream gets whipped so much that tiny bits of butterfat form and this yields a grainy texture for the ice cream. After you’ve combined all the ingredients for the ice cream base it needs to be thoroughly chilled in the fridge. A nicely chilled base is ready to be poured into the ice cream maker and will churn quicker resulting in a smoother textured ice cream. Also, homemade ice cream is not suited to storage in the freezer. It’s best to enjoy the ice cream the day you make it, which should not be too hard for you to do. As homemade ice cream sits in the freezer ice crystals form, hardening the texture. Very unpleasant.

Ice Cream Machines

Basically, there are three types of ice cream machines: old-fashioned hand-cranked machines, expensive self-refrigerating machines, and the average household machine with a canister that requires pre-freezing. All week I’ve been working with the last variety, a basic Cuisinart 2 quart ice cream maker. The inner canister needs to be frozen for 24 hours before using it to make ice cream and it churns ice cream in 20-25 minutes. I think most people would be happy with this type of machine because it’s affordable, produces good results, and doesn’t take up much space (unlike the heavy duty self-refrigerating machines). David Lebovitz’s book, The Perfect Scoop has an extensive breakdown on the pros and cons of different ice cream machines that’s worth reading before you invest.

You can make ice cream without a machine, but the texture will suffer. That said, I often make Lemon Ice Cream from Italian Easy, Recipes from the London River Cafe. I simply pour a mixture of 2 cups heavy cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup superfine sugar, and the juice of 3 lemons plus the zest of one into a shallow dish. Stir occasionally to break up ice crystals and freeze until firm. It’s pretty darned good. You can also find ice cream made without a machine on David Lebovitz’s website as well as Bon Appétit.

Experiment with Ingredients

Summer is the season for homemade ice cream. I like to challenge myself to get the most out of an ingredient during its peak season. Try to create the peachiest peach ice cream you ever tasted. Use some of your berry jam to mix in vanilla ice cream. Play around with herbs like basil, mint or lemon verbena. Visit your local spice shop for inspiration. This week I’m on a quest for the most flavorful vanilla bean. If you’re a cocktail lover whip up an ice cream with your favorite spirit. Get inspiration from nuts and create a tasting of different ice creams like hazelnut, almond, or walnut. If you’re more savory than sweet a cheese ice cream (goat cheese, ricotta, blue, or Camembert) could be a great way to cleanse the palate after dinner.  If you have a sweet tooth try different sweeteners like honey or agave in your ice cream recipes. Ice cream is a fantastic way to explore, get creative, and try something new!

Have you come up with any fun homemade ice creams? I would love to hear about it in the comments – Just Click Here


Don’t forget… La Domestique is giving away a copy of The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz to one lucky reader! Click here for the details.