Why on earth would you ever make your own ice cream?
I mean, let’s face it, there’s absolutely no shortage of ice cream in this world. Ice cream and all manner of other frozen desserts are available at every turn today, and if you’re not happy with the selection at your local grocery store or convenience store, ice cream shops and parlours abound. In a city like Montreal, there are literally dozens and dozens of ice cream and gelato shops around town—many of them claiming to be “artisanal”—and they’re more than happy to serve you up a cone or a bowl of your preferred flavour/s. There’s literally no reason that you have to make your own ice cream.
But there may very well be a few reasons why you should make your own ice cream.
Cost may be one of them. It would be hard to make ice cream for cheaper than those tubs you get at the supermarket, but, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of person who regularly pays $5 or more for a single-scoop cone at your local artisanal ice cream shop, well, not only can you make truly exquisite ice cream at home, but you can make about a litre of ice cream for less than what you’d pay for two of those cones.
Quality is another factor. When you make your own ice cream, you know exactly what’s in the mix. And that means two things: 1) ice cream that’s entirely free of weirdo industrial agents of all kinds; and 2) ice cream that’s as pure and natural as you want it to be. Looking for organic ice cream? Well, finding it can be difficult, no matter how many artisanal ice cream shops and natural foods stores you might be blessed with in your area. However, making 100% organic ice cream at home is relatively easy these days. And just how artisanal is your local artisanal ice cream shop anyway?
But the most important factor might be the last one: variety. Yes, the possibilities are endless when you make your own ice cream, and, yes, you could make all kinds of kooky flavours if you wanted to. God knows, people do. But what I’m talking about is making ice cream that you just can’t find at any of the purveyors of fine flavours that surround you, either because you’re making a version that’s better than what’s available, or you’re making a flavour that others shy away from for reasons that are hard to fathom (as opposed to all those other reasons that are not so difficult to fathom).
Personally, I favour ice cream made with bright, fresh flavours—like high-quality, freshly roasted nuts, or height-of-season fruit—and I’m particularly fond of what we might call Adult Flavours: flavours that feature booze, flavours that are decidedly 18-and-over (or 19-and-over, or 21-and-over, or whatever, depending on your jurisdiction). Strangely, North America has a pretty strong Puritan streak when it comes to ice cream. Travel across Europe and you’ll find that boozy ice cream flavours and boozy ice cream-based desserts are commonplace. In fact, in France, it’s not uncommon to find frozen desserts served arrosé, or generously sprinkled with one liqueur or another. Actually, sometimes they even leave the bottle on the table next to you, in case you want to sprinkle your dessert with a good, old-fashioned free pour. Here, by contrast, the only boozy flavour that you find with any frequency is rum-raisin, and 95% (99%?) of the time there’s no actual rum in that ice cream—just rum flavouring.
In many ways, the inspiration for my experiments with Adult Flavours had to do with some particularly adult batches of rum-raisin that I had the pleasure of experiencing when I was still just a kid. We had a family friend named Ian who hailed from Jamaica. I don’t remember Ian being much of a cook, but he had a tradition of making a big batch of hand-churned rum-raisin every year for Jamaican Independence Day and inviting people over to partake in the festivities. Being a tried & true Jamaican, he took his rum seriously and his rum-raisin was quite literally soaked in Appleton Estate. In fact, there was so much rum in Ian’s rum-raisin—so much anti-freeze, essentially—that it barely held together. Ice cream cones weren’t an option. It was bowls of rapidly melting rum-raisin or nothing. Some of the other kids found Ian’s ice cream maybe a tad bit intense, but I was way into pirate lore back then and I found it very much to my liking.
Ian’s Rum-Raisin remains my benchmark to this day. In fact, it's pretty much my benchmark for ice cream of any kind. And it brings up yet another good reason to be making your own ice cream: good will.
Invite some friends over for an ice cream party or bring a pint to a social gathering of some kind and see what kind of response you get. We’re talking some serious Dale Carnegie action—you’ll be making friends and influencing people, and having a good time while you do it.
With all of this in mind, I’ve been testing ice cream recipes for a number of years now, trying to find the perfect one—or, at least, the one that’s perfect for me. But it took me until last summer to find the ice cream recipe of my dreams.
It came courtesy of Melissa Clark of the New York Times. I’d tested enough recipes to be a little skeptical when I read the title—“The Only Ice Cream Recipe You’ll Ever Need”—but I was also intrigued, and I knew enough about Clark and her taste to have faith. So is it “The Only Ice Cream Recipe You’ll Ever Need”? Well, that’s up to you to decide. All I know is that it’s definitely The Only Ice Cream Recipe I’ll Ever Need. It’s classic (built on the foundation of a silky crème anglaise), it’s relatively simple, and it’s got just the right balance for my tastes. Plus, as Clark’s article and video emphasize, it’s unbelievably versatile. Once you’ve got a base to work with, the possibilities are endless. In Clark’s case, this versatility led to a flavour chart that includes a wide selection of aromatics (vanilla, mint, cinnamon, etc.), fruit (strawberry, peach, cherry, etc.), chocolates and caramels, and nuts (almonds, pistachios, peanut butter, etc.). In my case, as you’ll see, it led to a whole bunch of Adult Flavour tests.
But, first, without any further ado…
Ice Cream Base
Time: 20-30 minutes, plus several hours to allow for proper cooling, chilling, churning, and freezing
2 cups/500 ml organic heavy cream (+/- $4.00)
1 cup/250 ml organic whole milk (roughly 60¢)
⅔ cup sugar (pennies)
⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt (pennies)
6 large free-range egg yolks (+/- $2.75)
Your choice of flavouring (price varies)
an ice cream maker--Ian hand-churned his ice cream, but these days it's actually pretty difficult to find a quality hand-cranked ice cream maker and it's very easy to find an inexpensive electric one--if you go electric, we recommend using a system that involves a removable core that you keep frozen in the freezer until it's time to churn
if you don't have one already, get yourself 1 high-heat scraper/spatula (like a Rubbermaid) that's dedicated to pastry/desserts only, because ice cream is a delicate matter--you don't want to be adding strong savoury flavours to your base unintentionally
1. In a small pot, heat cream, milk, sugar and salt over medium-low heat and whisk until sugar completely dissolves, about 3-5 minutes. Remove pot from heat. In a separate bowl, whisk the yolks. Whisking constantly, slowly whisk about a third of the warm cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pot with the cream. Return pot to medium-low heat and gently cook, stirring carefully with a heat-resistant spatula all the while, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer) and it has achieved a rich, velvety texture. Make sure to keep your heat low enough that the custard doesn’t cook too quickly, and to avoid curdling. If you’re thorough with your heat and your spatula, you should be able to produce a luscious custard while totally avoiding any signs of scalding or curdling. I tend to cook my crème anglaise over low to medium-low heat, and it generally takes me about 15 minutes to reach my desired texture. [If you watch Clark's useful video, you'll notice that she claims that your crème anglaise should take about 5 minutes. She calls this period of stirring and watching "meditative." I guess I like to meditate longer than she does. I've also become a proponent of cooking the crème anglaise as gently as possible to avoid any scalding and/or curdling at all.]
2. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. [If you do have any slight curdling, the sieve will catch those bits and keep them from tainting your ice cream.] Cool the mixture to room temperature. You may want to speed up the process somewhat by placing the bowl in an ice bath. Once the crème anglaise has cooled, cover and chill at least 4 hours, or, preferably, overnight.
3. Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve directly from the machine for soft serve, or place in freezer and freeze for a minimum of 4 to 6 hours to produce the proper texture for scooping.
Yield: About 2 pints [yield depends on the ingredients you add and the amount of churning you do, but I've been consistently producing 1 litre of ice cream, or just over 2 pints]
[based very, very closely on Melissa Clark's Master Ice Cream Recipe]
Again, if you need help visualizing this process, check out Melissa Clark's helpful, informative video.
That's it. Sound simple? It is. The only real trick has to do with the combination of the heat management and the stirring.
If you want just a pure, unadulterated Ice Cream, you don’t need to go any further. This Ice Cream Base is delicious on its own. Just make sure to use top-notch ingredients when you do.
My best batches have been made with milk, cream, and eggs from Vermont. I know each and every farm they've come from, they're no more expensive than corporate organic and free-range brands, and, even more importantly, all three ingredients are of a superior quality.
If you want a beautiful vanilla ice cream, just add a vanilla bean when you’re making your crème anglaise. If you like vanilla flecks in your vanilla ice cream, just slice your vanilla bean open before you add it.
If you want to mess around with Melissa Clark's flavour chart, go ahead, be my guest.
And if you want to play around with Adult Flavours, this recipe is a perfect place to start. Just go ahead and add some booze when you begin the churning process. I’ve been adding a minimum of 1/2 cup of liquor for my tests, and I haven't been skimping on the liquor. I've been using high-quality ingredients for every other part of this recipe, why would I cut corners when it comes to the alcohol?
Greatest hits so far have included:
Bourbon-Pecan (a.k.a. Yes, Pecan!): 1 cup of roasted pecans and 1/2 cup Maker’s Mark
Peanut, Chocolate, and Jack Daniel’s (a.k.a. Three Great Tastes That Taste Great Together): 1 cup salted & roasted Virginia peanuts, 100 grams of 70% chocolate shards, and—you guessed it!— 1/2 cup Jack Daniel’s
Jamaican Coffee (a.k.a. Jamaican Me Crazy): strong coffee & 1/2 cup dark rum
and, of course,
Rum-Raisin (a.k.a. Rum Raisin): 1 cup high-quality raisins & roughly 1 cup (!) of good, dark rum
For my most recent batch of Rum-Raisin I began with plump, beautiful Iranian green raisins
and I soaked them in 1/2 cup of dark rum for about 2 days. After I’d made my Ice Cream Base, I added another 1/2 cup of rum and the rum-soaked raisins. The end result was like a femme fatale (crème fatale?): gorgeous, potent, and delicious.
So, go ahead: Make Your Own. And don’t be afraid to Make It Adult when you do.
* And those lucky enough to know them.