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Experiments in Ice Cream

July 27, 2009

ice cream
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Ice cream easily ranks amongst my all time favorite foods and I’m sure that to most folks, this sentiment requires little justification. I love ice cream of the artisan variety, procured at establishments like Toscanini’s in Cambridge, Capogiro in Philadelphia (a gelateria, so be fair) and my childhood vacation favorite, Sundae School on good ol’ Cape Cod. I have soft spot for the vanilla and chocolate soft serve swirled into squat cake cones at Dairy Queen, complete with a crunchy chocolate dip. I love it at home in my favorite bowl, or sometimes in small spoonfuls straight from the carton, just to tide me over until dessert. Although there are more than enough good reasons to eat ice cream year-round, summer is truly its heyday and with the onslaught of the $4-5 small cone, I’m enjoying it the most frequently at home this season. This past June, armed with my parents rarely used ice cream maker, I set out on a mini-adventure in ice cream.

I have to admit, that prior to June, my sentiments about homemade ice cream were similar to those initial feelings I had about home baked bread.  Why spend hours making it when there are numerous ways of obtaining quite delicious and relatively inexpensive versions in your local market?  But just like bread, there is a certain mystique to making ice cream from scratch–kneading or churning, rising or freezing, both require foods require time (and patience), and a level of exertion (unless you have a fancy schmancy ice cream maker/bread machine) that’s unlike my usual projects in the kitchen.  But as time elapses and your arm tires of churning, the charm of the process unfolds–just like bread, the simplest ingredients (basically milk, sugar and eggs) are coaxed into a product far greater than the sum of its parts.

Beyond the most rudimentary ingredients lie are limitless possibilities for experimentation, or simply chances to recreate classic ice cream flavors with an added kick. My first batch this summer was rum raisin; the addition of 1/4 cup dark Haitian rum to the hot half-and-half and later (during the churning process), raisins that had been soaked for a few hours in a mixture of more rum and brown sugar, yielded a truly ‘adult’ tasting treat. The second batch was a mint chip…By steeping several handfuls of torn, fresh mint from the garden in the hot half and half for about 10 minutes, the ice cream was infused entirely with the refreshing flavor. Shards of 75% cacao dark mint chocolate added textural variation and added richness. Below is the documentation of the ingredients:

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mint
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steeping
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Per usual, I consulted Mark Bittman’s ‘How to Cook Everything’ for a basic recipe. In both of the aforementioned flavor variations, I went with the cornstarch version–when working with such high intensity flavors, the added richness of the egg yolks seemed a bit excessive, though I’m sure would have been tremendously delicious. As far as the milk/half-and-half/cream ratios go, I used 1 1/2 cups half-and-half and a 1/2 cup of 1% milk in the first stage, then 1 cup of cream after the custard-y mixture had chilled. Again, the truly intense flavors of the ice cream seemed to compensate for any richness lost in opting out of 100% cream.
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Vanilla Ice Cream (though the number of variations is quite limitless)
from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

1 vanilla bean or 2 tsps. vanilla extract
2 cups half and half, milk, or a combination
1/2 cup sugar
6 egg yolks or 2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup cream or more milk or half and half

1. If you’re using the vanilla bean, split it in half and scrape out the seeds; combine them with half and half and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a small saucepan. Heat, stirring occasionally, until steam rises from the half and half, 3-5 minutes; remove from the heat.

2. Meanwhile, beat the yolk and the remaining sugar until thick and slightly thickened on color (you can use a whisk or electric mixer). If you’re using cornstarch, mix it with 2 tablespoons or so cold water or milk to make slurry.

3. If you’re using eggs, stir about 1/2 cup of the heated half-and-half into the yolk mixture and beat; then stir the warmed egg mixture back into the heated half-and-half and return it to the pan. For the cornstarch version, whisk the slurry into the heated half-and-half along with the remaining sugar. For both egg and cornstarch mixtures, heat, stirring constantly, until thick. The mixture is ready when it thickly coats the back of a spoon and a line drawn with your finger remains intact; this should take 3 to 5 minutes. If you’re using cornstarch, strain the mixture before proceeding if you think there might be any lumps.

4. Cool completely, then stir in the cream and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.

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churning

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2009 2:42 am

    what would you do with a 40# box of fresh Jersey peaches on a hot Sunday in August? Any good chutney recipes come to mind? Tomorrow’s the day….canners up from the basement…come join us!

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