I'm the kind of person who, even at just-shy-of-35, plants herself in front of the oven window and watches cookies bake from start to finish. And my son is just like me. So, ice cream making is the perfect bonding activity for us. Our ice cream maker is electric-powered and open at the top, so he and I can watch cold cream turn into ice cream in a matter of minutes. Nerd heaven.
Ice cream making is easy as can be. The only challenge is deciding what flavors to make. My son's all-time favorite is...wait for it...vanilla. And while vanilla gets a bad rap for being boring, it is a great canvas for other flavors, so that worked for me. And since this week marked the beginning of the local strawberry season, we agreed that we'd make strawberry as well. Oh, and I, uh, sort of told my little boy that just this once we could have ice cream for lunch. What?
The biggest complaint that most people have of homemade ice cream is that it doesn't taste like the store-bought stuff. For my part, while I want my homemade ice cream to be more cream than ice, I'm happy to leave the guar gum and the stabilizers to the grocery store giants, which is what gives so many store brands their smooth texture. And knowing a few bits of practical chemistry makes it easy to get very satisfying results at home. First, fats and sugars do not completely solidify at freezing temperatures, so tread carefully before adjusting either out of a recipe (though if your ice cream is too hard, you may want to up the quantities of either by a tablespoon or two at a time). Second, ice cream needs to have air incorporated into it in order to lighten it so it will have a good texture—otherwise, you could simply whip up a batch of ice cream base and plop it in the freezer, which we all know doesn't work. So whether you have a hand-cranked or electric-powered machine, it's important to let the machine go a good long while to incorporate as much air as possible. But, except for the fanciest of home machines, even if you let your machine churn and churn for 25 or 30 minutes, you will probably need to let it set up in the freezer for 1-3 hours before it really feels like ice cream. The time between when your ice cream machine finishes churning and your ice cream sets up is best passed out of the house—at a movie, say—so you can't be tempted to constantly open the freezer door to check on the progress of dessert. I mean, not that you would open the refrigerator 5 times in an hour to check. Who would do that? Wait—whatever!
French Vanilla Ice Cream
1.5 c whole milk
2 c heavy cream
vanilla bean, split
6 egg yolks
3/4 c sugar
In a heavy saucepan, combine the milk and 1 cup of the cream. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk, and add the vanilla bean. Cook over medium heat until the edges bubble.
Combine egg yolks, sugar, and remaining 1 cup of cream in a bowl. Whisk until smooth and the sugar begins to dissolve.
Remove milk from heat. Slowly whisk about 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Pour the tempered egg mixture into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (4-6 minutes). Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.
Place the bowl into a larger bowl (or stockpot) filled with ice cubes and water. Stir until cool. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Pour the custard into an ice-cream maker and freeze according to instructions (my machine takes about 25 minutes). Transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours.
2 c heavy cream
1 c whole milk
3/4 c sugar + 2 T
pinch of salt
1 t vanilla
2 c strawberries, coarsely chopped
In a bowl, combine cream and milk. Add 3/4 c of the sugar and salt and whisk until dissolved. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled.
Sprinkle the remaining 2T of sugar and vanilla over the chopped strawberries and let rest 30 minutes to an hour. Drain the liquid and reserve.*
In another bowl, using a potato masher or the back of a fork, mash half of the strawberries up into small bits. Add the remaining strawberries back to the bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
Pour the milk mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze until the consistency of thick whipped cream. Add the strawberries and continue churning another few minutes. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours.
*You can cook this down later with an equal amount of balsamic vinegar for a syrup that is out of this world.
Why, yes, those are cocktail napkins and a table cloth made from my Ice Cream Social fabrics—who knew? It's almost like I planned it that way...