I have a large piece in Food & Wine Magazine this month (June); which includes a really fine recipe to get you started making your own ice creams! It is a perfect blank canvas for you to go wild with. Read on for a lot of details about that recipe!
I am always frustrated by ice cream cookbooks. The problem is not so much the recipes per se, it’s the fact that home machines are not great at making smooth and creamy ice cream. At least not with any recipe I’ve ever tried (and I’ve tried all of them - or surely most). At Jeni’s, we have amazing gelato machines from Italy, so I am completely biased when it comes to machinery, and I never liked those little canister home machines (until now). Nonetheless, when Food & Wine Mag asked for some ice cream recipes for their June issue, I decided that I would figure out a way to make ultra creamy ice cream on a typical home ice cream machine (understanding that the average household doesn’t have access to a $40,000 machine from italy). If I was going to do a recipe, I wanted it to be Jeni’s ice cream, at home. I wanted you to be able to make ice cream that WOWed people...and I wanted it to be indistinguishable from what we produce in our kitchen. I was a tall order. I was a little nervous that it could even be done, nevertheless, I agreed to do the recipes for Food & Wine...and you know what? I did it! My home recipe, made with the limitations of a home kitchen in mind, is the finest ice cream out there!
Here is a long description of why my recipe works...
So, I'll admit it, it’s a little different. There are six steps that make my recipe distinct. First, I have you boil the cream, milk and sugar together for 4 minutes. It melts the fat into smaller molecules that are then better incorporated into the overall mixture. If you have ever eaten so called Philly-style ice creams, you may remember that the fat coats your palate - that’s because the fat molecules are large and distinct from the rest of the mixture, so they congregate as the ice cream melts in your mouth. The boiling step also adheres the water portion of the milk to the sugar, which prevents the free water molecules from forming ice crystals. This step also denaturizes the proteins in the milk and cream and makes them more likely to adhere to water. This makes the ice cream smoother by preventing ice crystals.
The second unusual step is to add a little corn syrup as a part of the sugar (look for one that is all glucose - in other words, not high fructose). Corn syrup is is mostly composed of glucose. It’s been getting a lot of flack lately - mostly for high fructose varieties, but I’ve got to stand behind it. We use a tiny amount of glucose syrup in our ice creams (as do most ice cream makers and pastry chefs I know). It is less sweet than cane sugar and a tiny bit truly does make a smoother ice cream. It is known to be a humectant, meaning it holds water...ie, prevents water from turning into ice! I have tested this countless times in my years in ice cream making and I know it to be true.
The third step is to add a small amount of cream cheese (Organic Valley makes a very good one to use for this purpose). I know that it’s slightly odd, but it makes a huge impact on the body of the ice cream. Keep in mind that I make American ice cream. Ice cream by nature has a firm and “lick-able” body - I always say that by licking ice cream you are excavating the flavors a little bit at a time. In order to be able to do this, the ice cream has to have a firmer body. Gelato, by contrast is served softer. One of the ways that we achieve this “body” in our business is by homogenizing our ice creams. I won’t go into detail here, but this process creates a molecular structure that creates a firmer texture. A little cream cheese is a way to cheat on this process! The cream cheese also works to emulsify the fat and water together. So, the fat doesn’t come loose and coat your palate. This ice cream is quite high in fat, about 17 grams per serving, but it doesn’t coat your tongue like other ice cream recipes with lower fat...this is why.
The fourth step is to add cornstarch. There are a couple reasons that I have you do this. If there is any remaining water in the mixture (and there surely is), the cornstarch sucks it up and holds it so that it won’t turn into ice crystals. The other reason is that I wanted to make a sturdy ice cream that would withstand the addition of other ingredients. If you add fresh berry puree to this mixture, the water that is naturally present in berries will not upset the balance of the overall blend too much and get icy. Truly, I set out to create a versatile recipe. I thought that if I couldn’t do a different recipe for each flavor (like we do at Jeni’s), then I would make one that was customizable so that you can go crazy with all of your flavor ideas! Cornstarch isn’t unusual, or new in ice cream making - Mark Bittman made a cornstarch ice cream and around the world, cornstarch and other thickeners are used frequently in ice creams (and have been for centuries).
The fifth step is to let the mixture cool overnight before freezing it (this is not listed in the recipe in Food & Wine, but it should be done). This step allows all the things that I just listed above to work by giving time to set. The starches are bonding (hydrating the colloids - one of my favorite things to say), the overall matrix is solidifying...and it does thicken quite a bit. During this time, if you wanted to add peppermint leaves, or spices or tea or coffee, do so while the cream is still warm - the flavor will truly have time to bond with the cream.
There is a sixth important step, which is to freeze the ice cream for several hours to harden it. It is almost an aging process. Flavors develop during this time Especially spices! Also, by serving it harder, you make the process of eating it take longer. It melts slower, and spends more time on your tongue (if you let it). Do not serve it rock hard - serve it frozen, yet pliable. It should be scoop-able. Of course, as I mentioned earlier, feel free to serve it just out of the machine if that is how you prefer it...it is delicious either way!
Overall, these steps are meant to prevent ice crystals from forming in the slowly freezing ice cream equipment of a home kitchen. Both the ice cream machine and the home freezer are much slower to freeze the ice cream than professional equipment. When ice cream freezes slowly, ice crystals grow and your ice cream is crunchy (sometimes crunchy is good, too... but not here)!
You may notice that there are no eggs in this ice cream! Nothing against eggs, I love them and we use them in some flavors at Jenis (especially during colder months). There are basically two recipes out there: egg custard and Philly-style (many more now, but cookbooks haven’t reflected this yet). Virtually every cookbook out there is loaded with the exact same recipes. There are slight variations on the amount of egg yolks, cream and milk...but the basic recipe is the same. As you can imagine, I own just about every ice cream cookbook out there, old and new (if I didn’t buy it, someone bought it for me as a gift - everybody thinks that I collect ice cream stuff). And I have tried every different recipe over many years. I have also made the ice cream from the fanciest chef’s cookbooks in my little cuisinart...but it always turns out the same. Icy, crumbly and slightly chalky. Custard (with eggs) is markedly better than Philly, which has no binding agent at all, and is not even cooked to dissolve the sugar. Both styles are best served just out of the machine, but even still the fat comes together and coats your palate. When I first started making ice cream back in the mid nineties, I used my creme brulee recipe - which was loaded with egg yolks! Over time, I have found that I have a slight preference for ice cream made without eggs. With a few major exceptions! Eventually, I will do a custard flavor for home machines - look for it here next Fall/Winter!
At Jeni’s we have a different recipe for each flavor. Obviously, I couldn’t do that for Food & Wine, but I think what I created is a really versatile ice cream that I hope you go wild with this summer!!!