Last summer I bought an $80 Cuisinart Home Ice Cream maker at William’s Sonoma because I had a coupon for 40% off. At the time I thought it could end up being another underutilized kitchen gadget that I bought on an impulse. Little did I know that a year later I would be opening up a small batch, artisanal ice cream business.
I have read pretty much every homemade ice cream book and done a whole lot of experimenting. Making ice cream at home is incredibly fun. It’s limitless and even the clumsiest of home cooks can give it a whirl. Think of it as anti-cooking.
The beauty of ice cream is that with a simple ratio and some guiding principles you can get started with a store bought machine with a very good likelihood for success.
Here’s my basic ratio for your traditional 2-3 quart home ice cream machine. All you need to remember is 4-2-1-1/2 for a custard base.
4 egg yolks (farm fresh and bright orange, egg yolks are an amazing natural emulsifier, the thing that binds fats and water together making frozen ice crystals taste smooth and creamy – you can bump this up to 6 if you have a lot of other ingredients like rich chocolate or peanut butter)
2 cups cream (the higher the fat content the better 36% is good 40% is better)
1 cup milk (whole is preferable)
½ cup sugar (there are many things that can make things sweeter so start with a half cup only)
The only two techniques you need to consider:
1) The trick to a custard is to temper the egg yolks. Put the 4 egg yolks and sugar in a medium mixing bowl and whisk together. The sugar will help break up the yolks. Bring cream and milk up to a simmer in a pot (don’t boil, don’t microwave). Very slowly drip the hot dairy into the egg yolk while whisking. If you pour too fast then you get scrambled eggs. Pour out about half the pot then return to heat. Then pour the eggs from the bowl back into the pot – very slowly while whisking – that’s called tempering the eggs.
Simmer on low while continually stirring until you get a thick almost pudding like consistency that coats the back of a spoon. This could take up to 10 minutes.
Now that you know how to do this you can do crème catalan, crème brulee, real homemade pudding and a ton of other stuff.
2) Ice cream is a frozen foam. The idea is to freeze air in fat and water. At home you’re limited to how much air and coldness you can treat the custard mix to by the limitations of commercial machines for home use. In other words not much air and not too cold. When you’ve made your custard it must get as cold as possible overnight in a refrigerator. Whisking, blending or immersion blending might add a little bit of air but not much. Basically just stir to make sure everything is consistent before pouring, get that bowl as cold as possible right from the freezer before you start your batch, let it do its thing in the machine for about 20 minutes and get everything in the coldest part of the freezer to harden for a good couple of hours or overnight. From this point on, the ice cream should only get warmer right before you eat it. The more you take it in and out of the freezer the icier it gets. Please don’t ever put ice cream in the microwave or leave it out on the counter. If you’re going to be serving it slowly over the course of the evening leave it in the refrigerator if you need it to be a little softer, just don’t forget to get it back in the freezer as soon as possible.
-It doesn’t hurt to add a little vanilla extract to everything (even chocolate). Spend the money and buy a real vanilla extract like Nielsen-Massey Bourbon Vanilla.
-Want your ice cream to be softer after hardening? Add sugar or alcohol – both raise the freezing point.
-Honey, agave and anything that’s not sugar is usually sweeter than sugar and may make things too sweet and too soft. So use to taste rather than any prescribed quantity.
-Leave salt out of it. I don’t think it really enhances anything, even chocolates. If you want to go for a saltier, more savory flavor think about something else. Peanut butter and chocolate both usually have some salt in them.
-Steep: you can cold steep teas, coffees, cereals, your favorite candies, vegetables, bubble gum, whatever you want. Put it in some milk for a couple of hours and see what it tastes like, too long and you might start growing something that only scientists would find interesting.
-Inclusions: the best part about homemade machines is you can dump whatever you want into the mix. Just make sure to do it in about the last 30 seconds. Otherwise those cookies or brownies or whatever will get so cold the whole thing will turn into a cement mix and break your machine.
-Acid and dairy don’t mix: almost any fruit juice, even apple juice will make dairy curdle. For acidic fruit flavors look up online how to mix (usually a recommended heat temperature where the two will play along with each other.)
-More water means more ice crystals: generally something you want to avoid. So if you add 2 cups of watermelon juice to your mix don’t expect it to be as smooth and creamy as adding caramel.
-Nuts and chocolates will make things harder so think about something to go with them or add more sugar or a splash of alcohol.
-There are a million and one recipes online but you should really experiment on your own. You’re never going to be able to make Haagen-Daaz style ice cream at home so don’t bother – go straight for animal crackers and figs or whatever else your imagination can think of.
Martin Brown is a musician and arts administrator currently venturing into the ice cream business with Little Baby’s Ice Cream (www.littlebabysicecream.com). Being a Maryland transplant his favorite food is crabs, as a South Philly homeowner his favorite food is anything he grills in his backyard.