The best ice cream ever might come out of your own kitchen

July 20, 2010 

Homemade ice cream on a warm summer day can be magical. Festive Fourth of July photo shot in the Sacramento Bee studio, Tuesday, June 22, 2010.

(LEZLIE STERLING / LSTERLING@SACBEE.COM)

  • THE SCOOP

    Phillip Tong, professor of dairy science at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, has these tips for making ice cream at home:

    • MACHINERY: The best ice cream makers are the ones that can bring the mixture to lowest temperature the fastest. Home machines generally freeze ice cream to around 28 degrees.
    • INGREDIENTS: Use the freshest ingredients possible and keep them cold until just before using. Use pasteurized dairy products. If a recipe calls for raw eggs, use pasteurized egg products.
    • ENJOY IT ASAP: While homemade ice cream might need about an hour in the freezer to firm up, it's generally best the same day it's made, before ice crystals have a chance to get bigger.

Mention the words "homemade ice cream" and a flurry of excitement ensues.

Straight from the home ice cream maker, be it electric or hand-cranked, it's a show-stopping dessert that delights with its velvety texture and impresses with its fresh ingredients.

And, unlike pies or cakes, which require precision measuring and steady hands, making ice cream is a forgiving process and simpler than you might expect. It is also nearly as addicting as the treat that results.

Catherine Enfield, a state worker in Sacramento who blogs about food on http://munchiemusings.com, started making ice cream about four years ago after acquiring a Krups ice cream maker from her best friend.

"Someone had given it to her as a wedding gift," Enfield said. "She's not a big cook."

Enfield has experimented with the ice cream maker every summer since then. For her, the joy is in the inventiveness it affords. She can play with flavor — like coconut, pineapple and lemon grass ice cream (she loved it, but some people thought it tasted a bit too much like medicine) — and texture.

Enfield, 45, prefers the texture of homemade ice cream to the firmer store-bought varieties.

"It's creamier, and I like it when it's fresh out of the ice cream maker," she said.

Unlike commercial ice cream, which often has additives to ensure that it can withstand the challenges of distribution and shelf time, homemade ice cream tastes best the day it's made, said Phillip Tong, professor of dairy science at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and president of the American Dairy Science Association.

"The next day, it never has the right texture," he said.

That's because ice crystals grow as homemade ice cream sits in the freezer. Commercial ice creams are frozen at between 22 and 25 degrees, then go into a blast hardening tunnel at minus-30 degrees, instantly halting ice crystal growth.

"One of the things you do in homemade ice cream is you don't incorporate as much air as store-bought products," Tong said, adding that typical brands are about 50 percent air. "So (even a lower-fat homemade ice cream) will still be rich."

Want to practically guarantee rich, creamy ice cream with about half the fat? Try making gelato.

The Italian ice cream has less milk fat and about 20 percent or less air by volume than American ice cream, meaning every bite has that decadent, palate-coating mouth-feel.

F.W. Pearce, co-owner of Ciao Bella gelato and sorbet, said that like ice cream, making gelato isn't difficult and doesn't require machinery other than a home ice cream maker.

"If you master one technique, you can make all kinds of flavors," he said.

The notion of learning to make a custard base and varying ingredients to add dimension is the premise behind "Spice Dreams: Flavored Ice Creams and Other Frozen Treats."

Authors Sara Engram and Katie Luber, who own the organic spice company The Seasoned Palate, show cooks how to conjure up desserts like brown sugar and spiced banana ice cream and chili-orange-chocolate sorbet.

"Part of what the book does is give you tools to make the best ice cream and give you the courage to color outside the lines," Engram said in a phone interview from her Baltimore office.

From a chocolate base springs dark chocolate-anise ice cream. Or swap out the anise for cloves, cinnamon or cardamom.

"All of which would be delicious," she said.

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