An Elegant Homemade Ice Cream


The more milk fat, the better it tastes!

Homemade Ice Cream is one of the best desserts to think about when the temperatures start to rise in the spring. Sure, ice cream is enjoyed year round, but a warm spring or summer day is when frozen desserts come to mind.

I remember one particular early spring day in Texas when the mercury was on the rise. I decided to go buy an ice cream maker but, after checking all the stores, no ice cream maker was to be found. The stores were sold out. I had to settle for a pint of my favorite commercial variety. A lot of other people must have been thinking the same thing I was.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Ice Cream is very versatile as a medium for flavors and textures. From nice and simple vanilla, the most popular flavor of all, to avocado or basil mint. The warm weather has the added bonus of bringing so many ripe fresh fruits into season that can be used for toppings and flavors. Berries and other soft and juicy fruits work well mixed into ice cream at the end of the freezing process. Just make sure they are ripe and sweet.

How do you tell the difference between different types of ice creams? According to FDA regulations, a product can be called ice cream when it contains at least 8 percent milk fat, if other solid ingredients, such as chocolate chips are present. For plain flavors such as vanilla or chocolate, ice cream must contain at least 10 percent milk fat. Of course, the more milk fat, the better it tastes! The proper proportion of milk fat and milk helps the ice form into small granules mixed in with the milk fat.

French-style ice cream has a base of cooked egg custard. Sherbet, a lighter version of ice cream, contains less fat, but can contain milk, egg whites and/or gelatin. Sorbets never contain milk; they are softer in texture than sherbets and are also known by other terms, like ices or granitas. Italian-style ice cream, or Gelato, is mixed with less air to make it more dense.

There are a variety of ice cream makers for home use. Some of the older style tried-and-true ice cream makers use ice that is melted with rock salt to quick-freeze the cream mixture. These are either hand cranked or motorized. If you have the hand-cranked variety, have some friends over and make a party out of taking turns with the crank. It can be a lot of work.

In the old-fashioned freezers, the addition of rock salt to the ice forces the ice surrounding the can of ice cream mix to melt. Very cold salt water forms in the wooden bucket and absorbs heat from the mixing container quickly lowering the temperature of the mix until it begins to freeze. If salt were not added to the ice, it would melt at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and, eventually, the ice water and mix would come to equilibrium at 32 degrees or higher. The ice cream mixture, however, will not begin to freeze until its temperature falls below 27 degrees.

Therefore, in order to freeze the mixture, we need a salt concentration, or a ratio of 5 cups of ice to 1 cup of salt. At this concentration, the brine temperature should remain constant at 8 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is well below the freezing point of the cream mixture, so the mixture begins to freeze, making that most favorite of desserts.

More modern ice cream makers have a sealed metal canister base filled with an anti-freeze type of liquid that can maintain a lower temperature than ice. Simply store your base in the freezer, and when you want to make ice cream, the base is freezing cold and ready to go. No running to the store to get ice or rock salt, and no crank to turn. These types of ice cream makers are easy to use and fairly inexpensive, although their capacity is less than that of the old-fashioned freezers.

Some interesting facts surrounding ice cream:

  • The first frozen dessert is credited to Emperor Nero of Rome. Nero's concoction was a mixture of snow (which he sent his slaves into the mountains to retrieve) and nectar, fruit pulp and honey.
  • Each American consumes an annual average of 23.2 quarts of ice cream, ice milk, sherbet, ices and other commercially produced frozen dairy products.

French Vanilla Ice Cream

  • 8 large eggs yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2-½ cups heavy cream
  • 1-½ cups cold milk
  • Pinch of fine salt
  • 1 vanilla bean

In a medium bowl, lightly whisk together the yolks and half of the sugar.

In a non-reactive saucepan, combine the cream, 1 cup of the milk, the remaining sugar, and the salt. Split the vanilla bean in half, lengthwise and add to the cream mixture. Heat the cream over medium-high heat until just at a boil. Remove from the heat.

Gradually pour the hot liquid into the yolks, whisking constantly. Return the cream-egg mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring the mixture constantly, with a wooden spoon, until thickened, about 10 minutes. When the ice cream mixture is properly cooked, it should coat the back of a spoon. When thickened, pour in the reserved milk to prevent the mixture from overcooking. Strain into a medium bowl. This is your custard.

Fill another bowl with ice. Set the bowl of custard in the ice and stir until thoroughly chilled. Transfer the chilled custard to the frozen base bowl of an ice cream machine and freeze according to the machine manufacturer's instructions. (Take care not to over churn the ice cream or it will get a grainy texture.)

Transfer the finished ice cream to the freezer to set up for at least 4 hours. This is called aging, and it is a necessary part of making ice cream no matter how eager you are for that first spoonful. It is like opening a bottle of wine and letting it breathe before serving or letting a roast rest before carving. It just makes the ice cream taste better and imparts a better texture.

Ice cream can also be molded into different shapes and sizes for a more elegant presentation. Using the same molds as you would with gelatin desserts, you merely need to soften the ice cream or bring it to room temperature. You can layer your homemade ice cream with cake or candies and even fruit. If you mold the ice cream into a loaf with a bottom layer of pound or sponge cake and top it with toasty meringue, you have the traditional Baked Alaska. Ice cream can be any flavor or mixed with any item you desire. It is so versatile, not just with flavors, but can be modified for dietary restrictions, as well.

There are a myriad of toppings for ice cream that are quick and easy to make. Just by mixing sliced strawberries with a tablespoon of confectioners' sugar and about ¼ cup of Chamboard liqueur, you have a very nice topping. You can add any berry to that mix.

Another topping is the brown sugar, butter and banana mix called Bananas Foster. Made with rum or a banana liqueur, or both, it can be flambéd for a truly impressive presentation.

Bananas Foster Topping

  • 2 ripe bananas, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar (either light or dark)
  • Shot of rum or banana liqueur
In a saut pan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and the sugar and bring to a boil. Add the bananas and toss them in the sugar mix to coat. Let cook for a minute and add the shot of rum or liqueur. Let cook another minute and serve on your favorite ice cream.