Making ice cream at home is no easy feat. First, the home cook must purchase an ice cream maker -- typically at about $60 or $70. Then, the churned cream aficionado must master techniques such as tempering and things like emulsified egg yolks. And it all takes a very, very long time. Many ice cream bases require a thorough chilling in the refrigerator. That alone can take all night.
But then there is a very special moment, one that makes all the toiling and stirring admissible. It occurs after the ice cream base has been in the maker for twenty minutes. The machine's sound hushes from a buzzing tone to a muted humming note. Inside the canister, the stirrer envelops the sweet sauce, creating thick ribbons of frozen dessert. The machine is then turned off and the stirrer is pulled out.
Should the sensible home cook dispose of this soft, churned cream? No, no, no. The ice cream lover must lick the stirrer. Like he or she means it. And then, after experiencing absolute homemade ice cream enlightenment, the ice cream enthusiast must attempt to continue about the rest of the day.
In the spirit of the upcoming Valentine's Day, we have prepared a cheat sheet for making ice cream at home. Because we know that nothing says I love you better than a batch of homemade, slow-churned cream.
French-style Ice Cream
Smooth, rich, and silky, French-style ice creams are cooked custards made with emulsified egg yolks and milk or cream. In most recipes, milk is heated with sugar in a saucepan over the stove. Meanwhile, egg yolks are whisked together in a separate bowl. Then, the tempering begins. The hot milk is slowly poured into the egg yolks with a ladle while whisking. (Never stop whisking.) The egg-milk mixture is put back into the saucepan and stirred nonstop until the mixture thickens and coats a wooden spoon or spatula. This mixture can never reach a boil.
Custard-making requires a watchful eye. Or the home cook could end up with scrambled-egg custard. And that never makes for good ice cream. There are many rules for French-style ice cream, which explains why it is the most complex of ice cream types.
Philadelphia-style Ice Cream
Recipes for Philadelphia-style ice cream do not require the use of eggs. The ice cream base is just cream, or a combination of milk and cream. Flavorings are added, then the mixture is chilled thoroughly before adding to an ice cream maker. An obvious perk: this style forgoes the custard-related anxiety.
This variety can be harder, or firmer, than French-style ice creams. But it is also lighter in fat and texture, which is a useful trait when pairing with other decadent desserts.
Sorbet is simple and straight-forward. It is just pureed fruit juice, with sugar or simple syrup. Yet what sets apart a good sorbet from a mediocre one is the addition of booze. Since alcohol does not freeze, adding a tablespoon or two to a base can ensure a smoother, softer consistency. And, when making berry sorbet, remember to leave in some seeds for texture.
There is a thin line between sorbet and sherbet, and many people use the terms interchangeably. But, in most cases, sherbet recipes feature fruit juices in addition to milk, cream, or buttermilk.
If you rather not add booze to your sherbet, then just take it out of the freezer a few minutes before serving. Because, without booze or emulsified egg yolks, most frozen treats can get quite hard.
Vietnamese Coffee Ice Cream, Philadelphia-style
Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes about one quart
1 1/2 cups sweetened condensed milk (make sure ingredients list only milk and sugar, no partially hydrogenated oils)
1 1/2 cups freshly brewed espresso (preferably Trung Nguyen brand)
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1/2 cup organic half-and-half
In a medium bowl, combine the sweetened condensed milk and espresso. Whisk to combine. Add the half-and-half and stir. Chill thoroughly and then freeze in your ice cream marker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.