How to Make the Perfect Ice Cream

When I was little, I thought going out with my parents to the ice cream shop down the road was the best thing in the world; but, my aunt’s home-churned vanilla was a close second. It was overly sweet and vanilla and icy – all things I know are signs of poor execution now that I had culinary training – but I loved it all the same as a child. As an adult, I have reproduced many of her recipes (she died before I could pry them out of her), but I never learned her ice cream recipe. Yet, I feel confident in mine, and I feel that I’m building a beloved memory with my nephews and nieces every time I make it.

Ice cream falls into two camps: premium and non-premium recipes, and two styles: Philadelphia and French. Premium ice creams have a higher butterfat content (25-35% of volume) than non-premium ice creams (10-18% of volume), and less air churned in (25-50% of volume, compared to 75% or more for some supermarket brands). These result in a silkier, smoother mouth feel in the finished ice cream. Philadelphia style ice cream is traditionally made without eggs, while French style or custard ice creams are made with a cooked crème anglais mixture of dairy, sugar, and eggs. The highest quality supermarket brands-Haagen Dazs, Ben & Jerry’s, Edy’s, etc.-are premium French style ice creams.

I will be referencing my recipe for vanilla bean ice cream, which can be found posted to my Yahoo! Profile; although, these techniques and tips can be used for any premium ice cream recipe.

After preparing the crème anglais (cooked cream and egg mixture), it is essential to allow the mixture to rest a minimum of three hours — first, in an ice bath to stop cooking and to cool the mixture gradually, and then in the refrigerator — but no more than twenty-four. What is happening during that three hours’ wait is this: the proteins that coagulated and entangled while cooking relax. The butterfat stabilizes and recrystallizes into smaller crystals than it would form if it was allowed to drop temperature quickly, as would happen if hot crème was churned in an ice cream churner. Finally, the cooler crème would freeze more evenly and with less stress to your churner. All of this would lead to a smoother ice cream with smaller ice crystals. In baking, this wait is called autolyse. Ice cream makers call it aging.

At this point, you would pull out the manual of your churner, and churn your ice cream per the instructions listed. After the churn, you would have soft-serve ice cream. You would put your ice cream in a freezer-safe container, cover, freeze until firm, and enjoy thoroughly.

But, all of this overlooks the elephant in the room: what kind of churner to get? My aunt had a hand-cranked salt-and-ice cooled contraction I called “the Devil’s Little Joke.” The thing was hideous, it was a monster to use, and I think it personally was the cause of her rosy disposition. I can’t really give you a recommendation on what to buy — short of nothing with a crank — but I can tell you what to look for:

Look for a model with a removable churn chamber. This allows you to make more than one batch without cleaning and recharging the unit. Look for a model with removable agitators. This makes cleaning easier. Look for a model that does not requires pre-charging (putting any of the parts in the freezer to get cold). You will put your chamber and your agitator in the freezer, anyways, to prep them, but any system that requires the user “to bring the cold” will never produce as smooth a product as an electrically cooled model.

If you omitted the vanilla bean from my recipe, you would have what is known as sweet base. As it name suggests, it’s the base of most ice cream flavors (excluding chocolate). If you were to add a teaspoon of mint extract to the base before churning, and six ounces of chocolate chips after churning, you would have mint chocolate chip ice cream. If you would add one and a half teaspoons instant espresso and a half teaspoon of vanilla extract to the base before churning, you would have coffee ice cream. If you would take half a cup strawberry preserves to the mix before churning, and mix vigorously, you would have strawberry ice cream. Ultimately, you are the author of your own recipes, and imagination and passion are as much ingredients as anything else.

One day in the not-so-distant future, maybe your niece or your daughter will reminisce about hot summer days and your famous ice cream and will push you-not so gently-toward revealing your recipes. I can imagine worse fates than that. It all starts with a gentle push, and hopefully, this article will push you in the right direction.

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