Friday, May 04, 2012

Easy Gourmet: Homemade Ice Cream—How About "Lavender White Chocolate" Tonight?


Ice cream? You betcha! I love ice cream, just like everybody else. I love homemade, just like everybody else. I love saving money, just like everybody else. Well, I finally decided to put my passions where my mouth is. For Christmas, Santa (aka, me) brought our family an ice cream maker. I've wanted one for a long time. Now, ice cream makers come in three types: the kind where you add ice and salt; the kind where you store the container in the freezer and then plug it in; or the kind where you just plug it in. I found that the ice-and-salt kind makes ice cream that's a bit too soft. The plug-it-in kind works great but costs a fortune. So I chose the container-in-the-freezer option and bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker for about $50 (you can get them for about $35 now).

Ice cream is so ridiculously easy to make yourself; really, the only barrier is you. Plus, when you make it yourself, you don't add icky ingredients like guar bean gum and carrageenan, do you? Artificial flavors and colors? Didn't think so. You get pure-as-grandma's-sheets-hanging-out-to-dry ice cream. And surprisingly, homemade ice cream is a good bit cheaper to boot. So why not make it? Are you scared? Don't be—it's no big deal and the kudos-to-effort factor is huge (you get gigantic rewards in the way of oohs and ahhs with little energy in the making).

And probably the most fun thing I have found about having an ice cream maker is the chance to experiment. No reason to feel stuck to the same ol' vanilla, chocolate, strawberry routine, or the other extreme of rocky-road-über-chunk-cookie-dough-kitchen-sink flavor. You are the master of your flavors and with a few simple rules of thumb, you will be creating your own ice creams with exotic names like "Cherimoya Custard," "Blueberry with Blueberry Maple Syrup," "Lychee Sorbet," "Cranberry Candied Pecan" and collecting all the praise that you so rightly deserve.

So let's get started. The instructions below are for the Cuisinart ice cream maker. If you have a different size, adjust accordingly. The idea is that you are creating from rules of thumb and not cast-in-stone recipes. Dare to show flare! Invite some perpetual kids over and have fun!

Homemade Ice Cream Rules-of-Thumb
  • Use a total of about four cups of dairy. The more heavy whipping cream you use, the richer your ice cream. The more whole milk you use, the lighter your ice cream. If you use all whole or skim milk, you do run the risk of having a crystallized effect (crunchy ice cream). If you use all whipping cream, you run the risk of having ice cream that is too crumbly--it will taste great, but the texture will be too dry. Better ice creams are velvety smooth. I recommend using either half 'n half or some proportion of whole milk to heavy whipping cream that suits your preferences. This is ice cream, after all. It's not a diet food—it's a food of love and joy and summertime and smiles. If dieting is a challenge, enjoy a smaller amount and feed the rest to your loved ones (this stuff is rich—you will not want to gorge on it). When you make small batches like this Cuisinart ice cream maker makes, there's not a lot left over anyway. So four cups total: I usually do three cups heavy whipping cream and one cup whole milk. You can also make half a batch, and then, eat only super-fresh ice cream
  • Where you can cut back, diet-wise, is on the amount of sugar you use. Most ice cream recipes call for a humongous amount of sugar (1 cup or more for this amount of ice cream!). I recommend  uding less, from 1/2 cup sugar on the light end to 3/4 for four cups of dairy. You could also substitute maple syrup, honey, stevia extract, and more, but use less if it's more sweet, e.g., honey is extremely sweet so you'd need less than 1/2 cup of honey. (Honey is surprisingly delightful in ice cream.)
  • If you are using sugar, I recommend raw or turbinado sugar because it's the most nutritious and because it tastes heavenly! With sugar, though, you cannot simply throw it into the ice cream maker. You will have to "melt" the sugar before adding it. That way you do not get crunchy sugar granules to ruin the texture of your confection. What works for me is to put the granulated sugar in the microwave with a small amount of the milk/cream you are using for your ice cream and heat it until the sugar dissolves. Then, store the hot sugar/cream mixture in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  • If you are using chocolate and want the ice cream smooth, then melt it before stirring it in. When you stir the melted chocolate into the other ingredients, do so outside of the ice cream maker. If you take an ice-cold ice cream maker container and pour melted chocolate into it, your chocolate will immediately harden, and you’ll get crunchy ice cream (if that’s what you like, go for it!). But mix the chocolate with the dairy and then pour it into the ice cream maker for smooth, blended ice cream.
  • Use about 1 tablespoon of either vanilla extract (which is basically booze and vanilla) or some other kind of liquor. Good ones are Grand Marnier, Limoncello, Rum, banana liquor, Frangelica, etc. Don't use too much liquor or your ice cream will get overwhelmed (unless that's the effect you desire!).
  • Other ingredients are optional, such as fruit or fruit mixtures, dark chocolate, white chocolate, nuts, etc. But the important thing to remember is that if you are adding fruit, make sure the fruit is cut into small enough bits that if you bite on a frozen fruit bit you aren't going to lose a tooth. Smaller bits really are better. If you throw big chunks of fruit in, you'll regret it! The ice cream maker will not chop them up for you unless the fruit is very soft (like raspberries). I did this once with big peach slices and found it nearly impossible to eat—big fruit chunks in ice cream are rock-hard!
  • If you like a custardy ice cream, then cook your beaten egg yolks along with a small amount of the liquid, stirring over low heat frequently until the egg mixture is smooth. Then add the egg mixture to the rest of the liquid—while still outside of the ice cream maker. Once everything is mixed thoroughly, add it to the ice cream maker. Mark Bittman, of “How to Cook Everything” fame—whom I admire and adore—believes no ice cream is real ice cream unless it has egg in it. He’s a purist. For me, custard ice cream (French style) is one category, and regular ice cream is another. I prefer regular, but, as they say in Japan, “Juu-nin, tou-iro.” Or “Ten people, ten colors.” In other words, to each his own.
  • Feel free to dip a spoon in while the ice cream is cranking to taste if you need to adjust the recipe.
  • After making your ice cream, freeze it for a while in the freezer before serving. Why? Because homemade is somewhat softer than store-bought ice cream. You may get a good consistency or you may not. But if you run the ice cream in the machine until it is finished—about 20 to 30 minutes, then freeze for an hour or so, you ice cream will be the perfect consistency—scoop-ready!
That's basically it! So here's my freebie to you—my own invention, I am proud to say—and so delicious it could win you admirers or even paramours. Certainly the neighborhood kids will follow you around expectantly after one taste of this! Enjoy.

Lavender White Chocolate Honey Ice Cream
Three cups heavy whipping cream
One cup whole milk
1 tablespoon culinary lavender seeds (you can get this online or at gourmet markets—lavender is great to have around for other savory foods and for lavender martinis—don’t tell the kids I said that)
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of white chocolate (not "white baking chips," but REAL white chocolate, that is, cocoa butter and flavorings)
1 tablespoon of vanilla


1) Make a tea of a couple of tablespoons of hot milk with the lavender seeds. Let the seeds steep for a few minutes and then strain the seeds off (the seeds are too bitter to make a yummy ice cream addition, but the flavor they add is close to ecstasy!) and reserve the “tea” you created.
2) Melt the white chocolate along with about 1/4 cup of the milk and the honey on a burner at low heat, stirring constantly and removing when the chocolate is melted.
3) Add the chocolate mixture to the lavender tea and the rest of the cream, milk, and vanilla. Stir everything together and pour into the pre-frozen ice cream container.
4) Cover the ice cream maker and turn it on, letting it run for 20 to 30 minutes. After the ice cream is made, remove it to a freezable plastic covered container (Tupperware makes a great one—the Rock 'n Serve, medium deep) and freeze for an hour or so before serving.