Ice cream is magic. There’s just something about it that makes it feel like a treat, no matter the weather or time of day. The hallmarks of any great ice cream come down its texture and flavour. You want to strike the perfect balance between firmness and creaminess, which is often easier said than done.
Ice cream is categorised as a frozen dessert, which can either be churned or “still frozen” and, at the most basic level, it is merely foam that has been stabilised by freezing much of the liquid. But the way in which this process takes place coupled with the ingredients used make all the difference. If you have a basic understanding of the ingredients and how they work together, you’ll be able to make far better ice cream.
Here are a few things to take note of the next time you’re craving ice cream and want to make your own at home.
Always cool the base mixture down completely
Generally speaking, homemade ice creams start off as a custard – where eggs are combined with sweeteners and a dairy product like milk or cream. To make sure the eggs are cooked, you need to heat the mixture to a point where it coats the back of a metal spoon or reaches 70°C. This mixture needs to be completely cool before being churned or frozen. If this isn’t done, lactose crystals can form and result in a very gritty and undesirable texture.
Speed and temperature are key
The way to creamy and smooth ice cream is by making sure the ice crystals are very small. Ways of doing this are to ensure that the base mixture freezes quickly and at the lowest possible temperature (this is why churners are great – they are extremely cold). If you don’t have a churner to keep the base mixture moving, then you’ll need to be vigilant about beating it frequently by hand (you’ll want to stay home that day).
Agitating the mixture to get air into it is essential to achieving a firm-enough ice cream. The air bubbles need to be kept small and stable. This is where fat is crucial. While the mixture is being churned, molecules of fat (from the milk or cream) come together to form longer strings of fat, which form a type of structure that surrounds and supports the air bubbles.
Fats are important
If your mixture is too low in fat, the ice cream will have a lighter texture and not much aftertaste, and will likely melt very quickly. On the other hand, too much fat (more than 20%) will leave a greasy and fatty mouthfeel. Apart from the texture, fat also contributes to the flavour in that it absorbs and “holds onto” the flavourings that are added.
Vegan ice cream
Vegan ice cream contains no egg or dairy, so you might want to go straight to nut milk or coconut milk. A trick to get a smoother texture, however, is to add a bit of coconut oil.
Without the stabilising properties of milk proteins, vegan ice cream relies on emulsifiers to distribute the air bubbles and keep them stable. Try something like soy lecithin or guar gum.
For maximum flavour, make sure your flavouring ingredients are finely chopped, which will give them more surface area. Don’t use an ingredient that goes soft when wet as it just won’t work. Some classic flavour ideas are pistachio nuts, crushed honeycomb, berries, bits of caramel, grated chocolate, citrus zest and, of course, vanilla. If you’re adding any alcohol (yes, who doesn’t love a boozy frozen dessert?!), please note: alcohol lowers the freezing point of ice cream and adding too much of it will prevent it from freezing at all.
It may come as no surprise that ice cream needs to be kept in the freezer. And because it’s one of the most temperature-sensitive items, always keep it at the bottom of your freezer, which is the coldest part. When getting ready to pop it in, make sure that you place it into a shallow dish rather than a deep one. This will keep it from going rock hard.
Now it’s time to practise! Try one of these 10 Ridiculously delicious homemade ice creams that will make you want to lick your screen.