By Terese Allen, Organic Valley Food Editor
Do you remember when new-style ice cream machines came out some years ago? I mean the kind that use freezable gel canisters and don’t require any ice or rock salt. Back then, I lumped such machines into the same category as bread-makers and electric woks--limited-use devices that can't produce the quality of from-scratch cooking done the old-fashioned way. I’m still not sold on bread-makers, and I’ve never met an electric wok that generates stir-fry-worthy heat, but I’ve changed my mind about ice cream machines. In fact, after using both electric and hand-cranked machines to make a range of frozen treats, I’ve changed my mind about ice cream.
I want to make it all the time now.
It’s not that I wasn’t a fan before. Like virtually every American I know, I have a thing for ice cream. If you want to see me smile, just serve me a bowl of java chocolate chip. Or, hand me a double scoop of French vanilla topped with maple syrup and toasted hickory nuts, and I’ll break into a big grin. What’s more, I’m from Wisconsin, the Dairy State, where cows graze happily on fertile pastures and milk is a state icon. Where I live, there are endless opportunities to enjoy frozen custard, frozen yogurt and similar frosty pleasures.
Still, I really became a fool for ice cream when I started making it myself, using pure, organic dairy products and featuring local ingredients like fresh, U-pick strawberries and artisanal honey. Yes, a machine makes it easy, but the ingredients make it fabulous.
The combination of first-rate ingredients and simple preparation is reason enough to add ice cream-making to your culinary repertoire, but add in the incomparable freshness of a homemade product, and making your own becomes pretty hard to resist.
So don’t! Here are tips and techniques for creating ice cream that will make your family smile (and bring a grin to your face).
Get a good machine (or use no machine at all). A good machine doesn’t have to be an expensive one. I have a small, non-electric model with a freezable insert that cost two dollars (and was brand new) at a garage sale. After adding an ice cream base to it, I turn the handle a few times every three minutes for about 15 minutes total, and get excellent results. But I also own a larger-capacity, big-brand electric machine that gets me there in the same amount of time with just the push of a button. (Plus there’s just something about walking away from a container of cold liquid, then coming back later to find a thick, frosty treat all ready—it gets me every time.) What you don’t want is a leaky, rusted, or otherwise compromised ice cream maker.
Of course, a machine—electric or hand-cranked—isn’t absolutely necessary for making your own. Check out this simple, entertaining method from ice cream guru Shannon Jackson Arnold, author of Everybody Loves Ice Cream: The Whole Scoop on America’s Favorite Treat (Emmis Books).
Use the freshest, most flavor-forward organic ingredients you can afford. Because ice cream is made from very few ingredients, their quality is all that much more important, for both flavor and health reasons. Stale spices, bruised fruit, plastic-tasting chocolate—they all come through in the end product. Same thing for additives, preservatives and chemicals. You don’t want that gunk in your favorite dessert, do you? Above all, choose safe, purely delicious organic dairy products—the main ingredient in ice cream. If you can taste the difference in a bowl of cereal or a cup of coffee, you can certainly taste it in ice cream. This holds true if the “ice cream” is vegan, also. In this case, start with all-organic soy milk or creamer, and you’re already halfway home.
Chill the ice cream canister. Chill the ingredients. This is the easiest part of the process (and takes all of three seconds of your time), and can mean the difference between patchiness or iciness and a creamy, more velvet-like texture. Freeze the canister of your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions—some indicate as little as eight hours will do the trick, but typically 12 to 24 hours is preferred. I store my ice cream canister right in the freezer; that way it’s ready to go whenever my dessert-making muse decides to pay a visit.
Custards and other cooked ice cream bases, as well as pureed fruit and other cooked flavor additions, should be chilled for four or more hours before being churned in an ice cream machine. To give an ice cream base even greater viscosity and to let the flavors meld, chill it overnight.
Take the cure. Ice cream right out of the machine will be soft-serve, or like a very thick sauce. It’s a delight this way because the flavor is freshest, the texture is dreamy, and, well, you can’t resist eating some at this point, anyway. But to harden, or cure, the ice cream into its classically creamy-firm form, you need to freeze it at this point. This is also called ripening, and besides firming your ice cream, it further develops the flavor. Transfer just-made ice cream from the machine to a container with a tight-fitting lid and freeze it until it reaches the consistency you love most, usually four or more hours.
Eat with pleasure. This really isn’t a preparation tip. It’s permission to fully enjoy the fruits of your labor. Homemade ice cream is a treasure. Think of it as a gastronomic grin, and savor every bite.
Strawberry Rhubarb Ice Cream — Fresh is best—and in this recipe that means the eggs and cream as well as the fruit.
Cinnamon Apple Ice Cream — A not-too-sweet and very fitting complement to most any apple pie or cake.
Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Honey-Nut Brittle — Organic Valley’s own Missy Kampling created this amazing recipe.
Berry Simple Frozen Yogurt — Berry-dense, lilac-colored, and lightly sweetened with agave nectar, this is a snack or dessert anyone can feel good about.
Espresso Frozen Custard — Because this velvety custard is so plush, even a small serving will be completely satisfying.
Dairy-Free Mango Ice Cream — It takes just two ingredients and ten minutes of prep time to make this luscious vegan ice cream. Replace the mangos with other pureed fruits and you can create a rainbow of easy desserts.
Real-Deal Maple Ice Cream — One hundred percent real maple syrup and pasture-pure dairy products share company in this elemental indulgence. To gild the lily, fold toasted nuts into it.
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream — Vanilla ice cream is one of life's little joys. Churn your own to make it a big one.
Plastic Bag Ice Cream — A fun, hands-on way to shake up your next party, from Shannon Jackson Arnold, author of Everybody Loves Ice Cream: The Whole Scoop on America's Favorite Treat.
Nobody really knows the origins of ice cream. Some historians say it was invented in China, others claim Italy or France. Some people even consider it an American innovation. But while that’s flat-out wrong, it is true that ice cream has acquired a distinctively American character.
In colonial days, the well-to-do enjoyed frozen treats at elegant confectioneries. Then, with 19th century technological advances in ice-cream making, the urban masses also began buying ice cream. By the late 1800s, specialties like sundaes and sodas were all the rage; the temperance movement was going strong and ice cream parlors offered a sociable alternative to saloons and alcoholic drinks. In the 20th century, ice cream cones, sandwiches, and bars hit the scene. Cars spawned a whole new culture of roadside stands that made ice cream ever more available and popular. What was once an aristocratic dessert became available to nearly everyone. Ice cream isn't an American invention, but it has acquired a uniquely American character over its history. You might say that ice cream is America's democratic dessert.