Nothing says “Summer” like ice cream. I make a lot of ice cream – more than we can eat. I make really great ice cream, if I do say so myself. So when my sister-in-law asked for an “award winning” ice cream recipe, to use in her local agricultural fair, I was happy to oblige. I haven’t won any actual awards, but if you follow my instructions, you’ll appreciate my confidence. Although Eleanore skipped the contest, she said she wished she had entered, if only because the entries all required detailed recipes and, as you will see, mine is nothing if not detailed.
The key to a great ice cream is its base. I almost always make fruit ice creams. While different fruits require different treatments and benefit from different supplemental ingredients, the base doesn’t vary.
I use a basic Cuisinart one-and-a-half-quart ice cream maker that only costs about $50. If you like ice cream, it’s the best $50 you will ever spend, because what you buy at the store can’t approach what you can make at home. Beyond what you might think when you read the instructions below, it is actually very easy to make your own ice cream – it just requires a lot of precision and a little finesse.
ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL…
These are the ingredients in your base…
· 1 pint heavy cream.
· 1 cup sugar.
· 4 large egg yolks.
· Most fruit ice cream recipes will use about one pound of fruit.
A WORD ABOUT FRUIT…
Some, like cherry, will require a bit if cooking. Others, like peach, will not. I strongly prefer the freshest possible taste –raw fruit – but that isn’t always sensible. The primary fruit that you choose will also drive any secondary flavors that you add. The Flavor Bible is the perfect guide for helping you add layers of subtle flavors to your ice cream. A pinch of citrus zest (like lemon with peach ice cream, or lime with blackberry ice cream) will give your ice cream additional brightness.
Vanilla is generally a good addition. Sometimes a little alcohol (like kirsch, with cherry ice cream) is great. But you are probably best off if you don’t overload the recipe with supplemental flavors because you don’t want to bury the primary. Stick to the primary flavor, a citrus to enhance the flavor, and a subtle use of a spice undertone.
This recipe is very precise because it is easy to overcook your base. And you don’t want to overcook your base, or it will break and you’ll get grainy ice cream. And if you undercook it there will still be more water in it so it won’t have that perfect texture – water turns to ice. It’s a stressful ice cream recipe to make, as you neither want to be a coward (undercooking) or a fool (overcooking) and the line is razor thin. So when you get it right, you get very full of yourself.
Cowards also add milk, which is cheating – it helps keep the base from breaking, even if you don’t know what you are doing – well anyone can do that. What’s the challenge there? The HOT ice cream cookbook of the moment (which admittedly shares my adherence to the idea that the base is all important and needn’t ever change) also adds cornstarch to the base recipe. Cornstarch? What the hell is that about? Well, cornstarch absorbs water – kind of like STP takes water out of your gas tank. Do you want me to serve you ice cream with a side of STP? I didn’t think so.
I get it right every time, now. I don’t cheat or take the easy path and neither should you.
These elaborate directions only cover about fifteen minutes of your life. Time will stand still:
· Depending upon what fruit you are using, some of the sugar will be used to macerate the fruit or will cook with the fruit. Subtract that (assume, for the sake of argument, it’s half of the cup) from what goes into the base recipe.
· Separate the four yolks, mix them gently, and place them in a bowl handy to the stove.
· Put the (rest of the) sugar and cream in a non-reactive pot on the stove, over medium heat, and start stirring.
· Regardless of any other instruction that follows, stir continuously – if you stop stirring your base will cook and break and you will feel like an utter failure.
· The sugar will dissolve before the cream gets very hot – but you want the cream to get hot (not warm, but not steaming yet). This will take about 5 to 7 minutes.
· When the cream is hot, spoon 4 tablespoons or a quarter cup into the yolks and stir it in with a fork – you want to heat the yolks so they don’t cook when you add them to the pot. Left hand stirs the eggs, right hand stirs the cream.
· Now, pour the yolk mixture, in a steady stream, into the cream pot – WHILE YOU KEEP STIRRING – so that it immediately mixes homogenously.
· If you have the urge to scrape the rest of the yolks into the cream mixture heating on the stove, ask yourself this question: “Who the hell is going to be stirring the pot on the stove while I am holding the yolk bowl with one hand and scraping with the other?”
· At about this time – now you are somewhere around 7 to 9 minutes since you turned on the stove – the base is about to start steaming. You can just tell it is going to happen. You sort of feel the first steam before you see it. Keep stirring and keep alert.
· It goes without saying that NOTHING can simmer. If anything simmers, you have ruined it all should never attempt this again. Just hold your head high and remind yourself that people who use milk and cornstarch to make ice cream are sad little people, with sad little lives, who can’t handle the pressure that you can handle in the kitchen.
· As this base is just about to steam – I can’t express clearly enough that you just will know this, like Ty WebbCaddyshack – use the hand that isn’t stirring and turn the heat to low. You are in the homestretch now. Think about what you are accomplishing, without taking a single shortcut.
· Even though you have turned down the heat, it will start steaming more visibly. You’ll notice it thickening a little, sticking to the side of the pot and to the spoon a little bit. So get your head out of the clouds and KEEP STIRRING because this is when you are in MOST danger of it breaking.
· BUT the steam is good – all of that EVIL water is leaving your base. While you are stirring, your mind wanders to what it would be like to make ice cream out of yolks, sugar, and BUTTER, because that’s what you are working on, in a socially acceptable, if time intensive way.
· Now the four previous bullet points have covered maybe two minutes of time. And this is kind of when you are starting to play “chicken” with the base. You want to be reducing this as long as you can, but not a second too long, or it will cook.
· So there is a point in time when you are on low heat and the steam is definitely steam – you’ll think “SHIT, there is NO way I’m going to get this off of the heat without it having been ruined.” This is when you pull it off the heat, and keep stirring. It will keep steaming. You can set it in the sink while you stir – which is probably a little more naturally cool than just setting on a cool burner.
· If you are really worried that the steam is not slowing down and your base is irretrievably marching toward cooking and breaking, like someone walking the plank, you can run some cold water into the sink while you keep stirring – the water will cool the pot a little and the steaming will stop. DON’T get water in your pot.
· After the steaming has COMPLETELY stopped, strain the base through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. THIS IS NOT CHEATING. At a certain point a little bit of the base will have cooked on the side or bottom of the pot. Any egg white will have also cooked – and you don’t want that in your ice cream. And those creepy egg umbilical cords – you don’t want those in your ice cream, either. (Though I tend to obsessively remove them from the bowl of yolks beforehand, which is also a convenient excuse to use an extra yolk.)
· Your base is now complete – cool for a few hours or overnight, in the coldest part of the fridge. Feel free to lick the pot.
The easy part will be freezing the ice cream the next day – dump the base in the ice cream maker and turn it on. Maybe a little bit of vanilla extract – I like extract as it churns, more than just using beans, which seem authentic but give an awfully thin bit of vanilla. (You can also use vanilla sugar in place of half of the plain granulated sugar in the base recipe – another reason it is good to strain,)
And if you are making a fruit ice cream, give the ice cream maker five or ten minutes of churning before adding all of the fruit (which should have been thoroughly chilled).
One thing you can do as it churns is stick a wooden spoon in your ice cream maker (don’t drop it or you’ll break something) and scrape the freezing part off of the side of the ice cream freezer, so it all freezes uniformly. If you are afraid of breaking something, by all means, skip this step.
So why did you use eggs and reduce the base like you did? As this stuff freezes, it will get extremely airy – increasing in volume tremendously. Because there is so much air in there, you could freeze this stuff to absolute zero and it would still be easy to scoop. But because it is so eggy and creamy, it is extremely rich. So it is light, but it is also rich.
(One could argue you will actually get fewer calories than a lower-fat ice cream, because of all of the air. One might be lying – honestly, I have no idea - but it sounds like a reasonable argument for your calorie conscious guests.)
So when it is done, it will almost float off of the spoon. I’d store it in a larger container, and not try to squish the air out of it. Put some plastic over it, so you don’t get any freezer burn. Put on a lid and stick it in the freezer.
WHAT FRUIT AND HOW?
Almost any fruit makes nice ice cream. And a pound per recipe is a good rule of thumb. Peaches or strawberries are best used raw, crushed with a half-cup of sugar. Don’t puree them, but don’t leave any big chunks as they otherwise turn to ice. Thoroughly chill your fruit before you add to the ice cream freezer.
Blueberries can be pureed with one-half cup of confectioners’ sugar and then run through a fine mesh sieve. That liquid will get gelatinous, but is absolutely fine.
You’ll want to cook cherries (sour are preferred) for a few minutes with the sugar before pureeing and straining. But save a handful of cherries, chop them up, and add as the ice cream freezes.
Now we’re moving into personal preference territory – but the important thing is that with the single ice cream base, you can have perfect results, every time. You’ll enjoy experimenting with the flavors because you’ll always have a creamy and rich but light ice cream.