To be clear, making ice cream is really easy. You should feel absolutely no trepidation before your first attempt. In fact, one of my earliest flavors was butterscotch- a complicated recipe only because it requires, you know, making butterscotch. That said, just like anything else, you'll get better with practice. So pick one of these recipes and get started. If it doesn't work out? Try again. It's still going to be ice cream and it'll taste good. Not like the time I tried using splenda (note: Don't do that. It doesn't melt into syrup, even the 'for baking' variety).
A final note before we get to the good stuff: I promised my brother-in-law Eric that I'll write about the differences between ice cream and gelato, the role of egg yolks, ice baths, and and those sorts of technical issues. I'll get to it eventually.. I've been putting it off because it'll involve doing some research, and not just my usual stream of consciousness.
The very simplest recipe is frozen yogurt. Why is it so easy? Because you go to the store and buy a quart of yogurt.. and freeze it. Seriously, check out this recipe for Peach frozen yogurt.
Easy Peach Frozen Yogurt
- 1 Q peach yogurt. (Make sure it's full fat -'whole'- yogurt.)
- 1 tbl vodka or rum (optional)
- Make sure sure canister insert is fully frozen.*
- Combine the yogurt and the alcohol, if using. Add the mix to the canister, and follow manufacturer's instructions to freeze.**
A quick note on the use of alcohol: Most fruit recipes call for adding a little alcohol. That's because fruit is mostly sugar, and so if you're making frozen yogurt or sorbet (ie, no eggs), there's not enough fat to make it soft. The alcohol will lower the freezing point, resulting in a slightly softer end product. If you don't want to use it, or even if you do and it still freezes into a brick, just let it sit out a few minutes before you eat. Lastly, you'll often see vodka called for, because it's flavorless. I prefer using rum, specifically because it is flavored. I once made an incredible mango sorbet with a couple tablespoons of dark rum- it reminded me of the beach.
You're right, that's probably too easy. Here's another frozen yogurt recipe. It's still very easy, but it illustrates how the general approach you can adapt to make any other fruit flavor yogurt.
Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
Slightly adapted from link: David Lebovitz's recipe (he's in Paris, thus the grams).
- 1 pound strawberries, rinsed and hulled
- 2/3 cup (130g) sugar
- optional: 2 teaspoons vodka or kirsch
- 1 cup (240g) plain whole milk yogurt
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Slice the strawberries into small pieces. Toss in a bowl with the sugar and vodka or kirsch (if using) until the sugar begins to dissolve. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring every so often.
- Transfer the strawberries and their juice to a blender or food processor (An immersion blender works well here, just watch out for little pieces flying out).
- Add the yogurt and lemon juice. Pulse the machine until the mixture is smooth. (Most recipes call for straining the mixture to remove any seeds, but I've never found this necessary.. plus, you'll end up with less of the end product, never a good thing).
- Put the mixture in the fridge for about an hour (you want to get it down to around 40 degrees). Then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.***
Okay, now it's time for the main event: ice cream. Specifically, Chocolate Hazelnut. This was one of my first flavors, and it's the one I usually make when I bring ice cream to someone's house, since it's a consistent winner. Also, it uses egg yolks, so I can talk through making a custard. If you look online, you'll see lots of people's misadventures making the custard. I really don't think it's a big deal. I suggest ignoring those discussions until you've made it yourself a few times. Then, if you want to fine-tune your process, take a look online.
Chocolate Hazelnut Ice Cream
This is adapted from Giada de Laurentiis' recipe on Food Network.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/4 cup
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup Nutella spread
- In a saucepan combine the milk, cream, and 1/2 cup sugar over medium heat. Cook until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.
- While that's going, in a medium bowl, whip the egg yolks with the remaining (1/4 C) sugar until the eggs have become thick and pale yellow (an electric mixer helps here, but I've used a whisk).
- Using a ladle or large spoon, add about 1/2 cup of the warm milk / cream mixture into the egg mixture and stir. Add this mixture back into the saucepan. This is called tempering, and it's to slowly raise the temperature of the egg yolks, so they don't become scrambled eggs.
- Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 7 to 10 minutes.
That's the instructions per the original recipe. My suggestion is.. relax. It's really not that hard. It's done when it reaches 170-175 degrees (if you're anal), or just dip a spoon into it, and then run your finger along the back. If you see a clear, distinct channel, it's done. This is the step that really improves with practice.. you'll quickly learn what combination of heat and time works best for your stove.
- In a medium bowl, add the vanilla and nutella. Place a strainer over the medium bowl and pour the warm custard mixture through the strainer. Mix well, to melt the nutella and combine the custard with the nutella and vanilla. I don't bother with the strainer, but if you've got a lot of cooked eggs pieces, the strainer would help with that.
- Cover the mixture with plastic wrap (pressing it tightly against the surface). Chill mixture completely before pouring into an ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions to freeze.
Still pretty easy, right? The biggest hang up here is, what to do with the left over egg whites. And you can see pretty clearly how to extend this recipe for any other flavored spreads, like peanut butter, or any other flavoring that gets added after the custard is cooked.
Okay, one more. This will be a slightly different approach, where you'll flavor the milk before you make the custard.
Cinnamon Ice Cream
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz (One of my favorite ice cream books.)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3/4 cup sugar
- pinch of salt
- 10 cinnamon sticks, broken up (to fit in the pot, and increase surface area; keep these big enough so they can be strained out later)
- 5 large egg yolks
- In a saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, salt, cinnamon sticks, and 1 cup of the heavy cream. Warm through, and then cover and let steep off the heat for one hour.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. In this version, all the sugar went into the milk. Frankly, I don't know why some recipes use one approach and some the other.
- Re-warm the cinnamon milk mixture, and remove the cinnamon sticks with a slotted spoon. Slowly add the milk mixture to the egg yolks, whisking constantly. This is the tempering step, as above. It calls for adding all the milk to the eggs.. I usually just slowly pour the contents of the milk saucepan into the egg bowl, stir it, and then pour it back into the pot.
- Place the entire mixture back into the saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a spatula (and being sure to scrape the bottom). Heat until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Don't let it get to a boil.
- Place the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream in a bowl with a mesh strainer on top, and put that all in an ice bath. Pour the custard through the sieve, and then mix together with the cream until cool. Refrigerate until completely cold, and then run through your ice cream maker. As above, I don't bother with straining it. Nor do I know why he holds the 1 C cream until the ends. If anyone knows (or has a guess), leave it in the comments.
This is one of my favorite flavors, but finding whole cinnamon sticks can be a pain. Whole Foods has them, but they're really expensive. You can get them much cheaper at a latino market (mine even had a couple different brands and varieties to choose from). This recipe also works really well with coffee ice cream: replace the cinnamon sticks with whole coffee beans (I suggest decaf, since you'll probably be eating this before bed).
And just for fun, here's a episode of Good Eats. Alton will talk you through all the subtleties that I've intentionally glossed over / don't know.
*This will always be the pre-req for any ice cream recipe, since an insufficiently frozen canister can ruin your day <link>). I suggest giving it a good 24 hours. Oh, and make sure it's completely dry before putting it in the freezer, and maybe wrap it in a plastic bag (it helps minimize the frost.
** Every ice cream recipe I've seen has this step. I suspect that for the vast majority of machines, those instructions consist of flipping a switch to 'On'.