Notes on Making Ice Cream

photo by PhotoAtelier (Glen)

Notes on the making of ice cream, gelato etc…

Making Ice Cream isn’t rocket science.

Really, it’s fun. Don’t be intimidated. If you measure things out ahead of time (get your Mess in Place so to speak) and pay attention while you are cooking, you will make great ice cream, better than anything you can buy in a supermarket. Better than you can buy in most ice cream parlours.

Making Ice Cream offers the home chef a lot of bang for the buck.

Making ice cream is one of those activities where the rewards gained from doing it are far higher than what you have any right to expect from such a simple activity. Your friends, family, and kids of all ages will be amazed and delighted. Your inner foodie will bliss out. Who doesn’t love ice cream? Really what more can you ask for as a cook.

You will taste the quality of the ingredients you use.

Simple recipes consisting of just a few ingredients, gently cooked or not cooked at all, as all ice creams are, means you will taste every bit of quality (or lack there of) of the ingredients you use. So use the very best, freshest, most local, most in season ingredients you can. Choose a flavor based on what’s peaking now.

Learn to distinguish between useful best practices, mindless convention, and just plain anal retentiveness.

One of the things I love about Mark Bittman, especially evident if you watch his New York Times videos, is that he cuts through a lot of unnecessary technique that often intimidate people (like me) from attempting particular recipes. Most series of complicated steps in a recipe can be reduced, eliminated or combined if you think about them in terms of answering the following question honestly: “Given my cooking skill level, what are the chances that I will wreck this dish in a way I can’t recover from, if I don’t do things exactly as laid out?” With ice cream making there are a few rules you see all the time which I humbly propose can be ignored most of time. This is especially true if you are planning on eating the fruits of your labor right out of the machine.

The bane of ice cream making is the formation of large and/or irregular ice crystals. I will cover this in a lot more detail in other posts but for now know that a lot of playing with the proportion of ingredients, and variation in preparation technique, comes down to people trying very hard to create tiny ice crystals and therefore super smooth ice cream. This is particularly an issue after ice cream is removed from your maker and stored in your freezer. If you are planning on eating all that you have made right out of your ice cream maker or within 2 – 4 hours in your freezer, it is much less of an issue.

Here is a list of conventions I break regularly and which you may be able to also.

Filter your egg custards and cooked mixes through a sieve when you are finished cooking them.

As long as you combine ingredients well enough to begin with, this is a completely unnecessary step. If your mix or custard is so full of clods of egg or whatever, that it really needs to be sieved, you probably have a bigger problem on your hands. Not to say there won’t be recipes in which you will choose to use a sieve, but that will be an exception not the rule.

Chill a cooked Ice cream mixture in an ice bath, and/or the refrigerator until cold before freezing in your ice cream maker.

This is supposed to create a finer ice grain structure by for allowing for quicker freezing time in the maker. I take the position that if you own a real ice cream maker (see below) you can skip this and go from stove to ice cream maker. I do this all the time and have not noticed any significant worsening of texture. Note that I have yet to read anyone else who condones this, so be forewarned.

Also note this convention can NOT be broken with Freezer canister type machines. With these you HAVE to cool down the mixture to almost freezing.

Chill ice cream mixture for at least 6 hours or over night before processing.

Why? I suppose the flavors might coalesce a bit better but I really wonder if you would taste the difference. It isn’t like we are making a curry or some other complex dish with dozens of ingredients and hundreds of flavor components. Ice creams mixtures typically have 4 or 5 ingredients.

I was happy to run across support for this opinion from Harold McGee the noted food scientist and chef. From his book Keys To Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, The Penguin Press 2010:

Don’t bother to age ice cream mixes for hours. Aging is important in commercial mixes that include gelatin and stabilizing gums, but in home-made ice cream it encourages cream to separate and churn into butter.

Freeze at least one hour before serving.

This is crazy. Ice cream, gelato, etc.. is more often than not best right out of the machine. Another excellent reason to own an ice creamer maker with a built in freezer is that with a reasonably simple recipe you can time things to make fresh ice cream while you are cooking dinner and have it ready for dessert!

Of course and alas there are exceptions to this rule. Ice creams based on Jeni Bauer’s ice cream base only come into their own after a few hours in the freezer. She recommends 4 hours. This is no small thing as her recipes have the best texture of any I have made so far. Lick the paddle and wait.

Experiment!

One of my main goals for the site is to encourage experimentation. We are living through a golden age of home cooking and diy foodie rule breaking. In many ways home-made ice cream is the perfect food to experiment with. The ingredients are inexpensive, the process simple and you can work in small batches of say a pint rather than a quart at a time. If you try something and it doesn’t work out and you have wasted a small amount of ingredients and an hour of your time. Embrace failure and before you know it you will be an ice cream making God renowned by friends and family.

Buy a Real Ice Cream Maker!!!!

At some point Makers of all kinds, realize that they are only as good as their tools. In any given discipline there are a handful of tools that are indispensable to, maybe indistinguishable from, producing high quality results consistently. Knowing this and using that tool or tools is what separates people who care from people that don’t. With ice cream making that tool is an ice cream maker with a built in freezer compressor. You pour your mix in and the machine freezes it while its churning. It works EVERY TIME, no hassles, no devoting 20% or more of your freezer space to a canister. Others may disagree but I have come to this opinion after years of messing with a number of canister style and rock salt and ice (brine) style makers. Life is to0 short. The only reason you should consider the any other type of machine is strictly financial. At time of writing you can get into a used compressor machine through eBay for around $200 including shipping or a very good new one for around $300.

The Anal Retentive Chef

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