Ever wonder how to make ice cream at home? First we’ll cover Ice Cream 101 and then I’ll take you through the basic steps to make Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, which can be adapted to any flavor you can imagine.
This might sound like a dumb question, but what is ice cream anyway?
At it’s most basic, ice cream is just frozen cream. Of course, plain frozen cream would not only taste very bland, it would be a solid block.
In order to create ice cream with the creamy texture we all know and love we use a clever appliance (an ice cream maker) and a few key ingredients.
Ingredients for Homemade Ice Cream
- Heavy Cream & Whole Milk – For a balanced proportion of fat and water, most recipes use a mixture of heavy cream and milk. I like to use 1/2 heavy cream and 1/2 milk.
- Granulated sugar – As we learned in the Baking School post all about the science of sugar, sugar is much more than a simple sweetener. We know it does all sorts of wonderful things for the texture of baked goods. Well, sugar also does all sorts of wonderful things for the texture of ice cream. As the sugar melts into the cream, dissolved sugar molecules interfere with the crystallization of water molecules. This reduces the freezing point of the mix so it won’t freeze rock-solid.
- Egg yolks – Egg yolks are not strictly necessary for making ice cream. I use egg yolks in my ice cream for the luscious custardy flavor and texture that the yolks contribute to the ice cream. Frozen custard will also melt more slowly than simple ice cream.
- Vanilla bean – For flavor. See the section at the end of the post for other flavor ideas.
- Salt – Just a touch of salt balances our the flavor of the ice cream
How to make Ice Cream at home
- Heat the milk and cream with the vanilla bean (or other flavoring) over medium heat until scalding.
- Combine the yolks and sugar in a bowl.
- “Liason” the scalded cream with the egg yolks then return the custard to the pan.
- Cook the custard until it coats the back of a spatula or spoon.
- Immediately strain the custard back into the bowl.
- Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean. Cover the bowl and chill until very cold.
- Run the ice cream in the machine according to the manufacturer’s directions.
- Transfer the soft ice cream to a freezer container.
- Lay plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream and freeze until solid.
How Does an Ice Cream Maker work?
- Whether you use an old fashioned crank-driven ice cream maker that is manually packed with ice and salt, or an electric model with a insert that pops into the freezer, the mechanics are the same. The ice cream mixture is set into a container that is surrounded by salty ice water that is super-cold, colder than the freezing point of water.
- A scraper is set into the canister containing the ice cream mix and the canister is turned, either by hand or with a motor. Inside the canister, the cream that comes into contact with the sides of the canister will start to freeze very quickly. The scraper constantly scrapes the frozen cream off the sides of the canister and churns it back into the mix, preventing large ice crystals from forming. Eventually, you have thousands (millions? billions?) of tiny ice crystals suspended in the mixture.
- In the process, there is also some air introduced into the cream, which will lighten and aerate the mixture.
- All those tiny ice crystals, unfrozen water that is suspended in the mix, and the air that was incorporated during churning, are what makes ice cream softer than a frozen block of cream. Ice cream is more semi-solid than solid.
Ice Cream vs. Gelato
The difference between ice cream and gelato is really just one of language. “Gelato” is the Italian word for many types of ice cream.
Here is the United States, “gelato” describes a specific Italian style ice cream that has more milk than cream. As opposed to American style ice cream which has equal portions of milk and cream or slightly more cream than milk.
Ice Cream vs. Frozen Custard
I always use egg yolks in my homemade ice cream. That means we’re moving from a simple “ice cream” recipe to a “frozen custard” recipe.
As we learned in our Baking Science class all about the incredible egg, when an egg is heated, protein chains in the egg break their bonds, open up, and form new bonds which can trap water. Cooking eggs in a liquid will thicken that liquid into a custard.
When we cook egg yolks with the cream and milk for this recipe we are making a basic custard sauce called Creme Anglaise.
When we run the custard in the ice cream maker, the water that is bound up with the egg proteins will not freeze. The unfrozen water will help keep the ice cream semi-solid rather than rock-solid, even after it is stored in the freezer.
Ice Cream flavor ideas
I’ve included a Vanilla Bean Ice Cream recipe in this post to get you started. You can also use vanilla extract as the base flavor.
To create really interesting flavors I like to swap in different dairy products. You can use cream cheese to make Cheesecake Ice Cream, Buttermilk Ice Cream has a wonderful tangy flavor and Creme Fraiche Ice Cream is a sophisticated flavor fit for the fanciest dinner party.
Steep fresh mint in the milk mix for the best Chocolate Chip Mint Ice Cream ever. Stir in some roasted peaches for an amazing Peach Ice Cream and use freeze dried strawberries for an intensely flavored Strawberry Ice Cream.
Want to learn even more about the science of ice cream? I highly recommend this Ice Cream Episode of Science Friday. Fun stuff for us geeks!
Now that you’ve made this recipe what should you do with all the extra egg whites? Check out this collection of recipes that use extra whites for some great ideas.
If you love this recipe as much as I do, please consider leaving a 5-star review.
Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe
- 12 oz whole milk (1 ½ cups)
- 12 oz heavy cream (1 ½ cups)
- 1 vanilla bean (split)
- 6 egg yolks
- 8 oz granulated sugar (1 cup)
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Combine 12 oz whole milk, 12 oz heavy cream and 1 vanilla bean in a small saucepan. Heat the milk mixture over medium high heat until scalding hot.
- While the milk heats up, whisk together 6 egg yolks, 8 oz granulated sugar and ⅛ teaspoon salt in a small bowl.
- Once the milk mixture is scalding hot, pour it into the bowl with the yolks and whisk to combine
- Return the entire mixture to the saucepan and heat over medium low heat, stirring constantly. Cook the custard until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spatula or wooden spoon. Do not allow it to come to a boil. Remove from the heat and strain into a bowl. Scrape the seeds from the pod and stir them into the custard. Return the pod to the custard. Cover the bowl and chill until very cold. At least 4-5 hours or over night.
- Before churning the ice cream, discard the pod (or save it to make vanilla sugar). Freeze according to the directions for your ice cream machine.
- When the ice cream is ready, scoop it into a container and smooth to an even layer. Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the ice cream, cover tightly and freeze until firm.
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