Monday, 11 April 2011

Ice cream.

This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  I LOVE ice cream, so it's always fun to talk about it.  I have a Cuisinart ice cream maker (shown to the left of this paragraph) and at about ten in the morning most Saturdays you can hear it whirring away making my latest concoction.  While I used to be a little more adventurous with the ice cream, I've really fallen into a pattern of Skor or Skor and chocolate chip ice cream or sometimes peppermint candy ice cream.  Occasionally I make a lemon sorbet (so tangy!), and when I'm feeling like a real treat I'll make a custard-style chocolate ice cream.

The best thing about making ice cream by hand is that it allows you to use up ingredients that would otherwise spoil, and it is by no means an exact science.  I know that's not the most exciting reason in the world to make ice cream, but if you think about it, taking milks and creams that would otherwise perish and making them into something delicious that won't go bad is a great idea.  There are two basic types of ice creams that you can make: Philadelphia style, and custard style.  The first is primarily cream-based, the second, although containing cream, also include a substantial amount of egg yolks.  Given that we almost always have milk, light cream or cream on-hand, I have gravitated towards Philadelphia style ice creams.  If the goal is to conveniently use up ingredients, it's easier in our household if I don't have to have eggs available.  Occasionally as a treat I'll make a custard style ice cream, and the next time I do, I'll post about it with pictures to show the process. 

The secret to my "method" of making ice cream is just to throw things that you like into a bowl, mix them up, then put them in the ice cream maker. This can be done by relative newbies once you have some basic directions.  First, you MUST make sure that the barrel of the ice cream maker (assuming you use an electric one) is frozen in accordance with manufacturer instructions, otherwise the process will become far more difficult than what you signed up for.  This has happened to me before, specifically because I did not freeze the barrel for the required 24 hours, so it didn't freeze the ice cream.  The solution, if that happens to you, is to put the mixture you have ended up with in a container and then just put it in the freezer and take it out and stir it every 30 minutes or so until it is frozen too solid to stir.  This will ensure the chunks are evenly dispersed and will incorporate a bit more air into the ice cream, which makes it fluffier.

The second thing which you will want to know before embarking on your own recipes is what size of chunks you can incorporate.  Generally, small chocolate chip-sized pieces are the best size to use in the ice cream maker, although if you are using something bigger, just put it in once the ice cream is pretty much done in the maker.  Check in the instruction manual, as this is generally something that is discussed in it.  If the pieces won't incorporate because the ice cream is too close to freezing, stir them in by hand.  If you use something that is basically sugar (i.e. Skor bits or crushed up peppermint candies), they will melt into the ice cream if you put them in early in the churning process, which I really like, but if you were looking to have bits of candy in your ice cream, save them for the end. 

To show you how easy making ice cream by hand is, I will give you a sample of what I typically do on a Saturday morning:
  1. I look in my fridge and see what we have for milk products that needs to be used up.  We always have skim milk and cereal cream (10% mf).  Sometimes we also have whipping cream (33% mf).  I prefer my ice cream to have about the same amount of milk fat as cereal cream, so I dump the cereal cream we have left into a mixing bowl and then if I'm using whipping cream, I will add it skim milk at a 1:2 ratio (1 part whipping cream: 2 parts skim milk).  Usually this will work out to about a litre of milk/cream base.
  2. Depending on how much liquid I've used, I put about 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of sugar in the bowl.
  3. I always use 1 tbsp of vanilla extract, regardless of the amount of fluids used (I like vanilla and never find it overpowering).
  4. I use a hand blender to mix the contents for about two minutes, just long enough to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Set up the ice cream maker and pour the contents of the bowl into it. Turn it on and let it do the hard work.
  6. When the contents start to get thicker (about 20-25 minutes of turning), I add whatever pieces of candy or chocolate I am planning to add.  Usually about 1/4 cup of Skor and 1/4 cup of chocolate chips.  I let that churn for about five minutes and then transfer it to a container and put it in the freezer.  The ice cream will not be frozen solid when you take it out of the ice cream maker, it will have the consistency of soft serve.  If it is still quite soft, you can open it up and stir it after about 30 minutes to 45 minutes to ensure the pieces don't all end up at the bottom.
All of this takes about five minutes in total.  I encourage you to try making your own ice cream if you are so inclined.  There are always a tonne of ice cream makers and other small kitchen appliances available second-hand on Craigslist, so it is not a signficant monetary investment.  The ice cream that you make yourself will have no preservatives, stabilizers or additives (unless you add them yourself), and you can control the fat content (you might realize that you prefer ice cream with less than the 30% mf that some commercial ice creams contain).  And... homemade ice cream is truly delicious!

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