Ice Cream 101

·5 min read
Photo credit: Noelle Carter/Amber Hawkins
Photo credit: Noelle Carter/Amber Hawkins


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As wonderful as ice cream is to enjoy — and there is no shortage of gourmet and small artisanal flavors to choose from in your favorite frozen-food aisle — there is magic to behold when you make it at home. It’s a fun project — entertaining, even, whether you’re making it with friends or kids. Best of all? You control the flavors.

When the late-spring and early-summer produce is at its peak at the market, when there’s a host of richly colored and flavored berries, stone fruits, and even vegetables from which to choose, it’s time to churn.

Ice cream isn’t hard to make — it’s nothing more than a few ingredients: dairy, sweetener, eggs, and flavoring. The trick is in the combination, the right ratio of components, and a proper ice cream maker.

Below, you’ll find a recipe for a basic vanilla bean-flavored ice cream. Like most ice creams, it’s custard based, meaning the essential flavors and texture draw from a rich, silky foundation made from egg yolks, sugar, and a combination of cream and milk. This lends the ice cream its intense flavor and creamy texture.

Think of that ice cream base as a canvas upon which to build your own flavor combinations, adding to, or substituting, the vanilla seeds for a variety of other flavorings. Substitute vanilla seeds for almond extract or freshly grated fruit zest. Drizzle in toasted nuts — pecans or almonds or pistachios, even walnuts — just as the base is frozen to a soft consistency to keep them suspended, or swirl in melted chocolate to create your own rich stracciatella. Or consider what flavorings you might have handy in a cabinet — cookies, candies, salted pretzels, even granola — that you could add, in bite-size pieces, as the ice cream begins to thicken.

Consider adding a variety of fruit now in season, though prepare and freeze the fruit — freezing individual bites or slices on baking sheets — before adding to the ice cream mixture so they keep their shape and texture in the final creation.

Ice Cream Essentials

You can also add liquor, though add it sparingly, drizzling in just enough to flavor the base without disrupting the chemistry (alcohol will affect the freezing temperature of the base, potentially keeping it from freezing if too much is added).

One of my favorite ice cream flavors is olive oil and roasted almonds served alongside grilled summer fruit. Remove the vanilla seeds in the recipe below, and add ⅓ cup of fruity olive oil at the end of step two. Toward the end of step three, sprinkle in 1 cup of roasted, salted almonds when the ice cream is almost set, suspending them as the treat freezes. Store the ice cream until you’re ready to serve, then garnish fresh grilled fruit — my favorite is grilled summer stone fruits, such as peaches and plums — with a scoop or two, garnishing each dessert with a drizzle of fruity olive oil and coarse sea salt.

Gadget tip

My favorite ice cream maker is the 1.5 Quart Cuisinart Ice Cream and Frozen Yogurt Maker. The tool is basic: Freeze a 1½-quart ice cream bowl, then fit it over the ice cream maker along with the ice cream base, adding the lid, and churn to work the ice cream (there is an opening for you to add flavorings and additions as the base freezes) to a soft-serve consistency. It’s a handy gadget that takes up little space in a cabinet or under the countertop, and is simple enough — there’s one button to turn it on and off — that a child can work it.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Photo credit: Dylan Simmons / Noelle Carter Food
Photo credit: Dylan Simmons / Noelle Carter Food

15 minutes, plus chilling and freezing times. Makes a scant 2 pints.

Ingredients

  • 2½ cups half-and-half

  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar, divided

  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

  • 4 large egg yolks, beaten

  • ½ vanilla bean, seeds scraped

Instructions

1. In a heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the half-and-half and ½ cup of sugar over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture comes to a gentle simmer. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with the remaining sugar and vanilla seeds.

2. Add a little of the hot cream mixture to the egg yolks, stirring to temper the eggs. Stir the yolks back into the cream and heat over medium-low heat until the cream thickens to form a custard. Immediately remove from heat and strain into a bowl set over an ice bath, stirring the mixture to chill it quickly.

3. Place the custard base in an ice cream maker and freeze. Place the prepared ice cream in a frozen container, seal well, and freeze for up to four weeks.

Note: From Noelle Carter.

Storage tip

Once you’ve made your semi-frozen concoctions, store them in a properly frozen container. Freeze a glass or metal baking dish before you embark on your ice cream exercise so it’s cold enough when you transfer your frozen creation. If the container isn’t sufficiently chilled, your ice cream will melt, and, as it refreezes, it will become denser and hard, affecting the final texture. Also, be sure to cover the surface of your creation with plastic wrap or a proper lid so ice crystals don’t form on the surface. Finally, know that each time you take out your creation to serve and then refreeze, the ice crystals will freeze a little larger, giving it a coarser texture and mouthfeel. It’s best to serve it all in one or two goes.

Noelle Carter is a chef, food writer, and culinary consultant at Noelle Carter Food. She was the longtime Test Kitchen director and food writer at the Los Angeles Times and a contributor to The Splendid Table, a nationally syndicated radio program from American Public Media. A native Southern Californian, she also holds a degree in film from University of Southern California of Cinematic Arts. Follow Noelle on Twitter @noellecarter.

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