All Ice Cream….all the time
Ice cream is my second favorite food, being narrowly edged out by french fries, and my single favorite recipe to make. Ice cream is anything but your run of the mill junk food; it’s extremely complex scientifically and can be screwed up or improved in several different ways. It’s the complex nature, process, and balancing act of ingredients that draws myself and so many chefs to this classic frozen treat. Many restaurant chefs say that they no nothing about pastry (or even care), but at one time or another, they all need to take a dive into the wonderful world of frozen, creamy deliciousness, and try their hand at ice cream. Another reason I like making ice cream is that it’s extremely therapeutic and keeps me out of trouble, like watching another Presidential debate.
In simplest terms, ice cream is a cocktail of fat, air, ice crystals and sugar. When you can master all these elements, and make them work in synergy, you have a real talent that will take you very far in life. Let’s take a look at the major players in ice cream:
Milk/Cream- Adds milk fat and solids to ice cream. Fat lends itself to that slow lingering flavor release and mouth feel found in a classic well made ice cream. Solids add protein to the mix, which can help incorporate air during churning, and help stabilize fat droplets, so they don’t begin to collect and curdle the milk.
Sugar- Simply adds sweetness. It should also be noted that sugar lowers the freezing point of ice cream, thus the need to freeze ice cream quickly and at lower temperatures than you would typically keep your home freezer, so it’s advised to turn your freezer down. Why does sugar do this, you say? Anything that can dissolve into water will lower the freezing point of water and sugar dissolves into water.
Salt- You should never not add salt to anything and that includes desserts. Salt enhances all flavors. Approaching a recipe without salt is like going into battle without a gun. Salt also dissolves in water which lowers the freezing point of ice cream.
Eggs- Add a distinct flavor and help emulsify the ice cream mix. Emulsification is the combination of two things that do not mix, such as oil and water. Eggs are not needed in ice cream, and are typically found in French “custard” based ice creams, like the one shown below. Philadelphia style does not use eggs.
Flavorings- Vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, cherries, etc.
Let’s take a look at the ingredients:
4 cups of heavy cream (You want to always try and use the best ingredients in your recipes. I use heavy cream from a local company here in Atlanta called “Atlanta Fresh”. It has a 40% butterfat content and is grass fed.)
4 cups of toasted, shredded coconut (Spread coconut onto a sheet tray and bake at 375 degrees until golden brown).
2 cups of whole milk
10 egg yolks
1.5 teaspoons of vanilla extract
2 pinches of kosher salt
Add 2 cups of milk and 2 cups of heavy cream to a sauce pot, and gently heat to just below a boil. While this is happening, combine the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl. Mix until well combined and creamy. About 30 seconds.
A little at a time, slowly add the hot milk mixture to the eggs, stirring each time. If we add the milk mixture all at once, the eggs will get too hot and begin to curdle, or turn to scrambled eggs. I add a couple of ladles at one time, let incorporate, and then add a couple more. This process is called “tempering” the eggs.
Add the mixture to a double boiler. A double boiler is a mixing bowl placed over sauce pot to keep the ice cream mixture from coming into contact with direct heat, because direct heat will curdle the eggs. The sauce pot should contain just enough simmering water to not touch the bottom of the mixing bowl, but coming pretty close. From here, you are going to stir the eggs (a rubber spatula works well) until it thickens up enough to coat the back of a spoon. I like to stir in figure eights because I find that method helps me cover more area. If the mixture is left too long without stirring it will get too hot and scramble. This process can take anywhere from 20-45 minutes, so grab a cocktail or put on some music. Just don’t hit that cocktail too hard or those eggs will scramble.
Remove hot mixture from double boiler, and then add the additional cold cream and toasted coconut to help cool it down. Then add the vanilla extract and salt. Place the ice cream base in the fridge for several hours, for the following reasons: The flavors will have time to marry and make for a better tasting ice cream; the mixture will get cold, making it easier and quicker to freeze; the fat droplets will redistribute, making for a sturdier, more cohesive base.
Once good and cold, pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Use the back of a ladle to force out any flavor or additional custard from the coconut shreds. Place strained mixture back in refrigerator to cool back down (remember, cold is key!).
Now it’s time to freeze. Here I am using a standard KitchenAid mixer with an ice cream bowl and ice cream paddle attachment. The bowl has a cavity inside it’s walls where water is stored. The bowl should be kept in the freezer, so the water stays frozen, thus freezing the walls of the ice cream bowl. I take the process a step further, and freeze the paddle attachment. I even place the ice cream mixture in the freezer, to get it really cold before the freezing process, but take special precaution not to freeze the mixture. Everything needs to be cold cold cold! And stirred. Why you ask? If you were to just skip the churning process and place the base directly in the freezer, it would form one large block of ice. If you churn the mixture, and at a very low temperature, it would create many, smaller ice crystals contributing to ice cream’s smooth texture. Churning also incorporates air and brings the mixture into contact with the frozen walls, freezing it quicker. So, it takes churning and rapid freezing to reach that smooth consistency.
As the ice cream churns, air is incorporated, and it’s volume expands. This is called overrun. If ice cream doubles in size, it has 100% overrun. Some cheap commercial ice creams have as much as 200%. This gives the consumer the idea that they are getting a bargain, when they are practically eating air. The churning process takes anywhere from 20-30 minutes. Learn to trust your own instincts. The churning time is going to different for everyone, depending on what kind of machine, what kind of mixture, how cold the mixture, etc.
Once you feel the mixture is thick enough, time to remove and place in the freezer. The trick here is knowing when to stop. Churning the ice cream too long, could add too much air, diminishing the flavor, and your bowl could defrost. If your bowl begins to defrost, your ice cream will defrost. Once you get that nice, soft serve consistency, remove. Place in a container, top with plastic to prevent freezer burn or drying out, and store in a very cold freezer. Turn the setting on your home freezer down. Remember, because of the sugar, ice cream needs to be frozen and stored at very low temperatures.