The summer before starting college, I became obsessed with homemade ice cream. I bought an ice cream maker and half gallons of heavy cream. and I made all kinds of flavors from strawberry-orange and coffee to raspberry swirl.
It was brought on by an older lady, Mrs. C., a woman who loved her flower gardens and made homemade desserts. While sitting at her kitchen counter, she would hand me a list of ice cream flavors, five or eight batches.
One week the list varied from burnt sugar, chocolate cherry chunk and peppermint to lemon sorbet and Butterfinger crunch, the other week would be vanilla, almond and chocolate, raspberry sorbet, chocolate-chocolate chip, and graham cracker with maraschino cherries.
It was an endlessly rotating list, each flavor a unique experience, melting surprisingly fast, faster than store-bought ice cream. Each bite was smooth and thick, fatty and heavenly.
Yes, fatty. Every variety of homemade ice cream made in the past several years has three primary ingredients: egg yolks, sugar, and whipping cream. These make the ice cream thick, creamy and delicious.
Ice cream is not what we might call a “health food,” but being heavy in fats and sugars doesn’t make it strictly unhealthy either, if you control what ingredients you put in the ice cream and ultimately what you put in your body.
Another thing that helps is taking smaller servings. Homemade ice cream is a heady experience. A small scoop can hold a lot of flavor. Any leftovers just go in the freezer for later.
Ice cream starts as a custard – egg yolks, sugar and milk over a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, a heat-tolerant bowl over a pot of boiling water works too.
The custard is the most difficult part. It must be stirred until thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, but not so long that it starts to cook into a thin scrambled egg. It helps to strain it in a fine-mesh strainer before and after it cools.
Heavy whipping cream determines the density of the final ice cream. For a lighter version, whip the cream before folding it in with the cooled custard. For a heavy, smooth version, don’t whip it or find a happy medium.
The flavor is the fun part. There are endless possibilities – some work better than others, but they are all worth trying.
Over the years, I’ve made some doozies.
Peach ice cream with more peach than cream froze in an inconsistent manner. A non-dairy plum sorbet with black peppercorns was so intense that we could only eat tiny bites with long pauses between them.
I’ve cooked the custard for too long, and once ended up with splinters from a wooden spoon in the strawberries. I tried a recipe with ultra-tart red currants and mascarpone cheese that became a flavorless mess.
I’ve made them all – the most luscious chocolate ice cream, strawberry-orange ice cream that caught the perfect tanginess of summer and a mild coffee flavor that called for a good afternoon chat to go with it.
And of course, when someone else is making homemade ice cream for you, it’s always better. If I could have any ice cream in the world, I would choose whatever Mrs. C. was making that week.
-Chocolate Ice Cream
-1 1/2 cups heavy cream
-1 1/2 cups whole milk
-1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
-4 large egg yolks
-3/4 cup granulated sugar
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat whole milk in a saucepan, preferably a double boiler. While this is heating, whisk the sugar into the egg yolks until it turns a pale yellow. Remove milk from heat before it boils, then whisk in the cocoa powder.
Slowly combine the cream mixture with the egg mixture, stirring constantly to prevent heating the egg too quickly. Cook on low heat with a double boiler, stirring constantly.
Add the vanilla, and when the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon, remove it from heat. For a smoother texture, strain through a fine-mesh strainer.
Set it aside to cool to room temperature, on ice or in the refrigerator if needed. A second straining may help maintain the texture.
When the custard becomes cool, fold in the cream. For a lighter, airier ice cream, whip the heavy cream. For a smooth, satiny texture, add it as it is.
Process in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions or if you don’t have an ice cream maker, try setting it in the freezer and stirring every 15 minutes until desired consistency is reached.
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