This is the time of year when a lot of folks get inspired to try making homemade ice cream.
It’s not difficult, but the creamy, dense treat that results might make it difficult to enjoy the grocery store variety in the future.
If you are attempting ice cream at home for the first time, there are tips to keep in mind that will make the job easier.
First, consider the churn.
Ice cream has to be churned to turn the liquid milk and cream into solid ice cream.
For years, this was done by hand with hand-crank ice cream makers and elbow grease. Hand-churning machines are still available, and so are a variety of ice cream balls that can be tossed around to do the mixing.
Electric ice cream makers have come down in price to the point where they are easily affordable for the home. There’s a variety of makers on the market priced between $30 and $60, depending on size and features.
Electric makers come with a motor that does the churning for you, typically in under an hour.
Susan Welch, who owned Welch’s Dairy Cream in Norton, Ohio, for 23 years before retiring in 2008, said that while she uses an electric machine at home, she wouldn’t necessarily rule out the old-fashioned methods.
Hand-cranking and ice cream balls that churn by tossing are fun ways to make ice cream, particularly if children are involved, she said.
Next, get prepared.
Ice cream making isn’t difficult, but it does require plenty of advance planning.
Most electric ice cream makers have a bowl filled with fluid that must be frozen, typically 24 hours or more, before using. Most ice cream bases also need to be chilled for six hours or longer before churning.
Welch recommends freezing the bowl several days ahead, or simply storing it in the freezer. She also said it’s a good idea to freeze the beater bar too. She likened the process to making whipped cream — the colder the bowl and beaters are, the better.
The same goes for fruit, chocolate chips, nuts or other items you may be adding into the ice cream. Make sure they are cold before they go into the mix.
When it comes to beaters, Welch noted that it is also a good idea to replace them often to keep them sharp, if you make a lot of ice cream.
Once you’re properly prepared, the next big decision is what kind of a base to prepare.
There are hundreds of recipes for ice cream base. Recipes for ice cream generally call for whole milk and heavy cream. Recipes with egg yolks are considered frozen custard and need to be cooked beforehand.
Italian gelato is made only with milk, but has very little air whipped into it during churning, which is what gives it such a rich texture even though it is lower in calories than ice cream.
Base recipes also might call for gelatin, corn starch, or even cream cheese to act as stabilizers and emulsifiers.
Welch said there is no one best recipe.
She recommends that those making ice cream for the first time start with a simple base and then experiment over time with different formulas until they find one that works for them and produces good results. Likewise, determining how long to churn the ice cream, which whips air into it and makes it creamy, is also a matter of trial and error. The longer it is churned, the more air goes into the ice cream and the less dense it will be.
Welch also noted that the more fat that is added into mix, the more flavoring it will require. While fat provides that rich mouth feel, it also means that flavors will have to fight harder to be noticed after the fat coats the tongue and taste buds. That’s one of the reasons gelato often comes across as having a more vibrant flavor than ice cream — because it is lower in fat.
“The less fat, the stronger the flavor will be,” Welch said.
Finally, get creative. When it comes to putting flavors together, “let your imagination go wild,” she said.
Chunks of fruit and nuts, ribbons of chocolate or caramel, swirls of peanut butter and candy are traditional add-ins. But don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Herbs, spices, sea salt, even wine and cheeses can be added to the mix to create sweet treats with a savory edge.
Welch said the finished ice cream will be only as good as what goes into it, so it’s important to use high quality ingredients.
When all else fails, you can never go wrong with a really rich, flavorful vanilla, and then go wild with the toppings, she said.
On Page C2 are basic ice cream and frozen custard base recipes to get you started. Both can be made in electric or hand-crank ice cream makers.