Ice Cream Secrets


Cool off from the Texas heat with your own ice cream.

Long ago people realized that cold kept foods from going bad. But eventually, cooks discovered that cold could do much more. Remains of provisions are sometimes found at the backs of caves where Paleolithic peoples lived and later, food was stored in holes dug in the ground.

The Ancient Romans used ice in food storage. Convoys brought blocks of compacted snow or ice to Rome, which was buried so it would keep.

Grandmothers Lemon Custard Ice Cream

Nero gave his guests mixtures of crushed fruits, snow and honey -- the first recorded sorbet. And Seneca was known to reproach his fellow citizens for the expense and trouble they went to for iced desserts. Even Hippocrates disapproved of chilled drinks, which he thought "generate fluxes of the stomach."

The Chinese may be credited with the invention of a device to make sorbets and ice cream. They poured a mixture of snow and saltpeter over the exteriors of containers filled with syrup. In the same way that salt raises the boiling-point of water, it lowers the freezing-point to below zero.

It is said that Marco Polo observed this practice and brought it home to Italy, traditionally a country that specializes in making ices. Catherine De Medici not only brought to France the fine art of gastronomy from Italy, but also the fashion for sorbets.

Here in America, Dolly Madison is generally credited with introducing ice cream at her husband's second inaugural ball in 1812. Actually, ice cream had already been enjoyed half a century earlier.

In 1744, a curious dessert called strawberry ice cream was served at the Governor's Mansion in Annapolis, Maryland. Records also show that George Washington bought a "cream machine for ice" in 1784 to use at Mount Vernon, and that Thomas Jefferson brought back a recipe from France in 1789, well before Dolly Madison's days as First Lady.

I will skip the description of the long arduous task of making ice cream in years past. Let us just say that making ice cream today is a snap, thanks to modern ingenuity and some pretty neat ice cream machines, especially the ones that do the churning for you!

It almost seems silly to make your own ice cream when Blue Bell and Hagen Daz are so readily available, but those hot summers were always a little cooler when Grandma pulled out the old ice cream machine. Summer still just doesn't feel right without it.

When the peaches start to ripen, it is a signal to get out the ice cream maker. What better way to get through the Texas heat that to cool off with your own ice cream. (I have learned that I can get my kids to do all the work. They think it is pure fun.)

Texas Peach Ice Cream

  • 3 medium size Fully-ripened peaches, peeled, stoned and chopped (approximately 1-1/2 cups)
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons Sugar
  • 1-½ teaspoons Pure vanilla
  • 2 cups Half-and-half, or 1-½ cups whole milk plus ½ cup heavy cream

In a bowl, using a potato masher or wooden spoon, break up the peaches with the sugar and vanilla until coarsely mashed. Stir in the half and half. Taste and add more sugar if needed.

Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. You can also "still-freeze" this ice cream, but it will not be as smooth (see directions below). When the ice cream is thickened and frozen, scrape it into a plastic container, cover and freeze for at least 1 hour. Let it soften slightly in the refrigerator before serving.

Grandmother's Lemon Custard Ice Cream

  • Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
  • ½ cup Fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup Sugar
  • 2 cups Half-and-half, or substitute 3 parts milk to 1 part cream
  • 4 large Egg yolks
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups Heavy cream

In a heavy bowl, combine the lemon zest and lemon juice, and stir in the sugar with a fork. Let it stand for 30 minutes. The sugar helps release the flavor of the zest. Scald the half-and-half over medium heat and set aside.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and salt with a mixer until well blended. Slowly add about half of the scalded half-and-half and stir gently. Return the mixture to the saucepan. Cook the custard over medium to low heat stirring constantly until it is thick enough to cover the back of a spoon. Do not let it boil or it will curdle. Immediately remove it from the heat and strain the custard into a large bowl. Stir in the lemon mixture and the heavy cream.

Lay a sheet of wax paper or plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Pour the mixture into the ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's directions. Or you can "still-freeze" this ice cream, as well; it just will not be as smooth.

When the ice cream is thickened and frozen, cover it and place it in the freezer until firm. Let it soften slightly in the refrigerator before serving.

"Still-Freezing" Ice Cream

This method can be used if you do not have an ice cream maker. Place the prepared mixture in 1 or 2 shallow metal pans, such as cake pans. Place in the freezer until firm around the edges, but still slushy in the middle, usually about 20 to 45 minutes.

Remove the pans from the freezer and stir the firm and liquid portions together with a wooden spoon. Return to the freezer until the mixture is again firm around edges. Repeat this step 1 or 2 more times until it is uniformly frozen the last time. Let the mixture soften slightly in the refrigerator before serving.

As I said, these desserts will not be nearly as smooth as the ones that are churned continuously by a machine, but it is still a good way to enjoy frozen desserts with ingredients you choose yourself. This same method of still-freezing can be used to make sorbets out of fruit juices or any combination of ingredients you pick. That is part of the fun! Try flavors such as espresso, cinnamon, honey, melon, hazelnut, cappuccino, peanut butter, chocolate and even eggnog. The flavors and combinations are endless.

Ice Cream Cake

Begin with your cake which has been chilled in the freezer. With a large serrated bread knife cut the cake through the middle, making layers approximately 1 inch thick. Though I cringe to say it, box cake mixes are just fine for this, as they are predictable and consistent.

Place a layer of cake on your cake plate or whatever you will be using to serve the cake on. Spread the ice cream onto the layer of cake -- it should spread much like peanut butter. If your cake layer is not cold enough, it may tear during this process. Spread the ice cream until it is smooth on top and about an inch thick. Place another layer of cake over the ice cream and smooth the edges so there are no lumps of ice cream hanging out the sides. Place the cake in the freezer for 20 to 25 minutes. Spread another layer of ice cream on the top cake layer. You can get creative and make each layer a different flavor.

Repeat the steps until you have a third layer of cake on top. Put the cake in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes while you prepare your frosting. Almost any buttercream frosting will do, but I really prefer a Chantilly cream on ice cream cakes. Chantilly cream is really no more that whipped cream with the addition of a small amount of confectioner's sugar and vanilla or other flavor to taste.

With your spatula, spread the Chantilly cream on top of the cake in a circular motion until it is flat and smooth. Spread the cream evenly on the sides until smooth. If you have cake decorating tools, have fun with it. If not, some chocolate shavings or cocoa powder will do just fine. Enjoy a taste from the past!

(See Jennifer's larger article on how to make ice cream cakes)