Making your own ice cream is some of the most fun you can have in the kitchen, and while the results are infinitely better with an ice cream machine, you can still make really great ice cream without one.
Your biggest enemy is crystallization, but don’t worry, we’re going to walk you through exactly how to make ice cream that’s smooth and delicious.
What Makes a Great Ice Cream?
From the guys who wrote the book (literally) on ice cream making, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (Ben & Jerry’s) come these two encouraging rules:
You don’t have to be a pro to make incredibly delicious ice cream.
There’s no such thing as an unredeemingly bad batch of homemade ice cream.
Here are the four things to keep in mind when making great ice cream:
- Small ice crystals
- Quality ingredients
- Higher fat content
- Keep it cold, cold, cold
Small Ice Crystals
When making ice cream, what you’re trying to avoid the entire time are ice crystals. That’s why ice cream machines turn the mixture constantly, and why you’ll be doing likewise when you make it without a machine. You’ll also want to get yourself the best ingredients. There’s no cooking involved in ice cream making — not this kind, anyway — so there’s nowhere for that cheap chocolate or fake vanilla to hide.
Ice Is the Enemy
We call it ice cream, but perhaps it would be better to call it frozen cream. When your ice cream contains too many ice crystals, or rather, ice crystals which are too large, the result is ice cream that’s hard and definitely not something anyone wants to eat. Have you ever frozen a carton of milk? Just turns to a solid block, right? That’s because of ice crystals.
By constantly churning the mixture as it freezes, you’ll break up those crystals and lower the temperature without allowing the ice cream to become too hard.
You’re never going to get ice cream that’s as soft and creamy as what comes from a machine, if you make it by hand, but with the right amount of patience and commitment, the results can be fantastic. If we had one rule of our own to share, it’d be this:
Making ice cream takes time, but it’s fun and totally worth it, so enjoy yourself.
There’s nowhere for bad ingredients to hide in cream, as we said, so choosing the best you can afford is really the only way to go. It’s not exactly cheaper to make your own ice cream, once you factor in cream, chocolate, vanilla, mix-ins and so on, the point is, is that it’s an experience, so do yourself a favour and buy the best. That includes:
- Real vanilla or quality vanilla extract (not essence)
- Heavy double cream or whipping cream
- Organic free range eggs
Higher Fat Content
There’s a reason great ice cream is so calorific — it’s made with heavy cream. The less fat a cream has, the more likely it is to form hard crystals, and the less creamy and luxurious it’ll be in general. The base recipe we use in this article uses cream and whole milk. Just remember, that the higher the fat content, the better your ice cream is likely to be.
Keep It Cold, Cold, Cold
Once again, it’s all about crystals. Anything you add to your mixture, whether it’s a sauce or M&M’s, is going to bring the temperature back up, affect the creaminess and increase the likelihood if ice crystals. To combat this, keep everything as cold as possible. We’re not kidding around, either, if you’re adding chocolate chips, keep them in the fridge. The colder, the better.
Adding Mix-Ins to Homemade Ice Cream
The whole fun of making your own ice cream is that you get to add whatever mix-ins you want. Before we get into how to do it properly, here are just a few of our favorite ideas:
- Mini marshmallows, chocolate chunks and crumbled cookies
- Apple pie pieces and salted* caramel swirl
- Pistachios and white chocolate chips
- Peanut butter and mini marshmallows
- Chocolate coated nuts, chopped
- Brownie pieces
*Anything salted will lower the freezing point of your ice cream. With salted caramel swirls, that’s good, because it means the sauce stays gooey, but use caution.
We’ve already mentioned that keeping everything cold is super important, and it really is that simple, just keep everything in the fridge or the chest freezer.
When to Add Mix-Ins
If you add your mix-ins right at the start, they’ll sink to the bottom. Wait until your ice cream is almost firm before stirring them in.
If you’re adding fruit, it’s best to either blend it and mix it into the base, or to make a sauce and swirl it in at the last minute. Any whole fruits you add will freeze solid (not cool).
Adding alcohol to your mix will lower the freezing point, and your mixture won’t set. We suggest mixing it in at the end, when your ice cream is almost set.
The Method: Making Ice Cream Without an Ice Cream Machine
Here we go. Our bases come from the Ben & Jerry’s recipe book. They are intended for an ice cream machine, so don’t be too disappointed if they’re not super duper creamy.
Sweet Cream Base
(Makes 1.1 litres)
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar (150 g)
2 cups heavy or whipping cream (475 ml)
1 cup whole milk (235 ml)
Light Chocolate Base
(Makes 1.1 litres)
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate (30 g)
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (20 g)
1 ½ cups whole milk (355 ml)
2 large eggs
¾ cup sugar (150 g)
1 cup heavy or whipping cream (235 ml)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make sure your ingredients are cold.
- Gently melt the chocolate over a double boiler and whisk in the cocoa
- Whisk in the milk and stir until everything is combined (allow to cool)
- Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy (an electric whisk is best)
- Whisk in the sugar, cream and vanilla (refrigerate for 1 to 3 hours)
- Cover the container with your mixture in it with cling film and place it in the freezer
- Every hour, remove from the freezer and whisk to break up the ice crystals
- Do this until the ice cream reaches the desired consistency (4-5 hours)
- When almost ready, stir in any mix-ins
- Transfer to smaller containers, cover the surface of the ice cream with cling film, put a lid on it and freeze. Best eaten within 5 days.
And there you have it. Making ice cream at home without an ice cream machine, courtesy of Ben & Jerry’s and Your House Garden.