Pop Ed Ice Cream: Part 2

A SPECIAL NOTE FROM THE BIG CECI: There is a person without whom The Big Ceci would not exist…and that person is Ryvka. Ryvka’s vision has been guiding The Big Ceci since day one. She helped come up with the idea for the blog in the first place, and since then, she has been a constant presence behind the scenes, offering inspiration, feedback, support, and guidance. She has encouraged, nurtured, motivated, and even nudged when necessary. And we’re hoping that her next contribution will be a post!

In the meantime, though, this week is a very special one on The Big Ceci, because it is the week of Ryvka’s birthday. In order to celebrate the Big Daddy of The Big Ceci, we are offering up a week of posts dedicated to her and her love of food!

So, because we love Ryvka, and because Ryvka and I are kindred spirits in our love for sweet things, we bring you…

POP ED ICE CREAM: PART 2 (the tutorial!)

In my last Pop Ed Ice Cream post, I told you why I love making ice cream. In this post, I want to tell you how to do it. But rather than just give a specific recipe, I want to offer some tools for ice cream making. I’m going to share what I’ve learned about proportions, ingredients, and basic methods…so that hopefully you can feel empowered to go off and experiment with your own flavors, liberated from recipes that limit you to the flavor they specify!

So, without further ado…

THE BASIC RATIO

All ice cream relies on a pretty basic ratio (or set of proportions) of ingredients that you can tweak based on what you’re doing. Here it is (this will make 1 quart of ice cream):

3 cups milk, cream, or non-dairy equivalent
3-8 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
flavoring of your choice (vanilla extract, chocolate chips, peanut butter, liquor, goat cheese, etc…the possibilities are literally endless)

Now you’ve got the ratio. All that’s missing for you to grab the reins of your own ice cream destiny is some knowledge of what each ingredient does – so that you can tweak it to your heart’s content. So let’s talk specifics.

THE “SCOOP” ON INGREDIENTS

Milk/cream/liquid: Traditional ice cream uses cream here – either 2 cups of heavy cream and 1 cup of milk, or even, for rich stuff like you get at that shonde Coldstone Creamery, 3 cups of heavy cream. It’s a simple equation – fat doesn’t freeze, so the higher the fat content of your liquid, the richer, creamier, and smoother your ice cream will be. Beyond that, though, it’s up to you. Experiment with what you like. You can use heavy cream, half and half, milk, or any combination. For non-dairy ice cream, I highly recommend coconut milk for the incredibly rich texture it provides – but you can play with other non-dairy milks too. Just remember the golden rule of making ice cream – the less fat, the less creamy.

By the way – people often wonder about the difference between gelato and ice cream. What defines gelato is that it has a lower butterfat percentage than regular ice cream. So gelato is traditionally made with fewer egg yolks and more milk than cream – if there’s any cream involved at all. Interestingly, the lower fat content allows the actual flavor of the ice cream to come through more strongly, which is why people often think of gelato as richer and more decadent.

Egg yolks: The fat in the egg yolks functions similarly to the fat in the milk/cream – it makes your ice cream richer, creamier, and smoother. Gelato tends to have fewer egg yolks (or even, in Sicilian gelato, cornstarch instead of egg yolks). If you make your ice cream with no egg yolks, then you’re making Philadelphia-style ice cream, which is all the rage these days for its simplicity and relative lightness.

Sugar: You can reduce this a LITTLE if your flavoring is super sweet, but be careful – sugar also doesn’t freeze! It is one of the ingredients, along with fat, that contributes to the softness of the ice cream. So if you reduce the sugar drastically, you may find that you end up with hard, icy, unappetizing ice cream.

Salt: Makes almost everything better. Don’t worry, you won’t be able to taste it.

Alcohol: Alcohol can add a lovely depth to your ice cream, and it has the added bonus of making it softer/creamier (because alcohol doesn’t freeze, as anyone who went to a Big Ten school knows). You can reliably add about 3 tablespoons of liquor to a quart of ice cream (which is what this tutorial makes)…any more, and you risk the ice cream failing to freeze.

INSTRUCTIONS

At this point I’m going to lay out the basic steps to making any type of ice cream. Obviously these steps will vary a little bit depending on what you’re adding in, but the important thing to remember is that the methodology of making and chilling the custard is pretty much always the same.

To help you experiment, I’ve tried to indicate where/how you would modify these steps when adding flavors/ingredients. And as an example, I’ve added notes and photos from the ice cream I made last weekend – a honey vanilla goat milk ice cream* for a friend who’s not eating cow’s milk or refined sugar right now.

1. Stir together your milk/dairy-like liquid, sugar/sweetener, and salt, and warm them in a saucepan over a low flame. If you are using spices, vanilla beans, herbs, or anything else that can dissolve/infuse into liquid, add those now too (but not alcohol – we’ll talk about that later).

Honey vanilla goat milk ice cream notes: I used 1 vanilla bean, sliced open and with the seeds scraped out (those are the specks in the above photo), and about 2/3 cup of honey, because honey tends to be a bit more intense than regular sugar.

2. While your milk is warming: in a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks.

Honey vanilla goat milk ice cream notes: I used 4 egg yolks for this ice cream. I think it was the perfect amount of richness – creamy but not heavy.

3. Once the milk mixture is warm, pour about half of it slowly into the egg yolks, stirring the yolks constantly as you pour. The idea is to warm the egg yolks gently so that you don’t get scrambled eggs when you heat them up in the next step.

4. Pour the egg yolks + milk mixture back into the saucepan. Now you have the beginnings of a custard – the foundation of your ice cream. You’re going to want to cook this custard gently, over a low flame, stirring and scraping the bottom constantly with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. By cooking the custard, you are doing two things: a) killing any harmful bacteria in the eggs, and b) bringing out their thickening potential. If you heat the custard too aggressively, the eggs will solidify and you will have, as I mentioned, scrambled eggs. Not good (unless you are making scrambled egg ice cream, I guess?), so be vigilant with your stirring (don’t forget to scrape the bottom), and fight the urge to turn the heat up too high – it’s easy to get impatient in this step, but try to give the eggs time to do their thing.

5. When the custard is thick enough that it coats the back of your spoon/spatula, remove it from the heat. This can be a tough thing to judge, so a little advice: dip your spoon/spatula in the custard and run your (clean!) finger down the back of the spoon/spatula. If your finger leaves a clear and distinct trail behind, it’s thick enough.

6. Pour the custard through a sieve/strainer (in order to catch any hardened bits of egg) into a bowl, and set the bowl over an ice bath (the easiest way is just to set it on top of a slightly larger bowl filled with ice). The idea is to cool down the custard as quickly as possible, so you may want to give it a few stirs to get some extra air in there.

This is also the moment when you should stir in any alcohol or other ingredients with which you want to flavor the ice cream (think bourbon, melted chocolate, etc). But…be advised that anything you add at this stage will be completely and homogeneously incorporated. Don’t add anything yet that you would like to “swirl” / “chunk” / remain distinct within the ice cream – we’ll get to those later.

7. When the custard has cooled, stick the bowl in the fridge for a few hours, or preferably, overnight. We do this because when it has time to chill, the fats emulsify and your ice cream gets creamier, smoother, and more delicious. So, overnight chilling is best, but at the very least, go for a few hours.

8. When the custard has chilled, churn it in your ice cream maker according to instructions, freeze it for 3-4 hours, or overnight…and eat it as quickly as possible! Fresh ice cream is the best.

Honey vanilla goat milk ice cream notes: When I took the ice cream out of the ice cream maker and transferred it into a container to freeze it, I drizzled in additional spoonfuls of honey. I did this after I churned it because of this: pretty much anything you pour in during the churning process will become 100% incorporated/dissolved into the ice cream. So if you’re adding an ingredient for variation in flavor/texture (peanut butter swirl, for example), you’ll want to add that ingredient after you churn but before you freeze, when the ice cream is still pretty soft.

With regards to churning time: the more you churn it, the more air that you’ll whip into it – but also, the icier it will get! For a lighter, airier, more icy ice cream, err on the side of longer churning. For a denser, creamier, more gelato-esque ice cream, err on the side of minimal churning. (By the way, true gelato is churned with a special machine that incorporates very little air into the ice cream, again leaving us with the dense richness that many of us associate with gelato.)

**

And that concludes the Pop Ed Ice Cream Tutorial! So now I turn the floor over to you…do you make ice cream? What are your favorite techniques and flavors? Got a tip or some pictures to share? Or, if you’ve never made ice cream – what’s a flavor you’d love to try? What’s the best ice cream you’ve ever had?

*Technically, since my goat milk was cultured, I made frozen yogurt – but for the purposes of this post, we’re going with “ice cream”!

Pop Ed Ice Cream: Part 1

I never used to think I could make ice cream. It seemed complicated and, honestly, uninteresting.

But then, during the summer of 2010, 3 things happened:

1. I got David Lebovitz‘s book Ready for Dessert for my birthday.
2. My friend Ethan Frisch started a really cool business called Guerrilla Ice Cream, where he made and sold ridiculously delicious (and interesting!) ice cream and donated 100% of the profits to important organizations like the Street Vendors Project.
3. My neighbors moved to Portland and I inherited their ice cream maker (so yes, this ice cream maker is very local!).

So, armed with my hand-me-down ice cream maker and the good advice of Ethan Frisch and David Lebovitz, in the summer of 2010, I started making ice cream. And what I discovered is that making ice cream is awesome.

Ingredients for bourbon chocolate gelato

See, here’s the thing: I’ve always had a sweet tooth, so baking has been a natural path for me. But as anyone who bakes will tell you, the difference between a hard, dry cake and a moist, fluffy one is precision and chemistry…so, if you don’t know a lot of baking science, it can be tough to improvise and add your own spin. On the other hand, I love cooking for the experimentation and freedom it offers – but it’s never satisfied my obsession with dessert.

Which is why, when I discovered ice cream making, I fell in love. Here’s the thing: there are some basic ratios and structures you need to follow when you make ice cream, but if you get them down, you can experiment to your heart’s content! Ice cream making: it’s a sugar fiend’s playground.

When Ora and I started The Big Ceci, I knew right away that I wanted to write an ice cream tutorial, and here’s why: anyone can make ice cream from a recipe. But if you understand how each ingredient functions in the ice cream, and how to manipulate those ingredients – how to make ice cream sweeter or less sweet, more dense or more airy, more rich or more light – then you don’t need a recipe. You can invent your own flavors, play with your own combinations, and improvise. In short, once you understand the basics, you can make (and make damn well) any ice cream you can dream up – not just any ice cream you can find a recipe for on the internet. And I think that’s pretty cool.

So now you have the backstory. Come back for Part 2 next week, where I’ll talk about the fundamental ice cream recipe and how to make it your own. And in the meantime, start brainstorming for the crazy fantasy flavor you’re gonna be making! I’m thinking about balsamic black pepper* myself…

* Damn. Just googled it and found out that someone already did that. Guess I’ll be doing some brainstorming, too!