If you love ice cream like me I assume you’re not satisfied with your local ice cream store and probably made a few attempts to make it at home.
Today, there is an abundant of ice cream makers that can easily do the job, and anybody can make ice cream at home, but can you make a great ice cream? that’s another thing.
I want to share a few pointers I’ve learned thru time and experience plus reading some of the professional manuals around, small tips that make a big difference.
Making ice cream at home is a science that can be learned and improved over time, I am constantly changing recipes in order to get to the perfect scoop.
Ice cream stabilizers
We all want our ice cream in the soft serve mode, it’s easy to scoop it and much more fun to eat it. The stabilizers allow us to reduce the churning time of the ice cream hence getting a soft serve texture that will last in the freezer.
There are different kinds of ice cream stabilizers, the most common one is the corn flour, it is available in every store and does a great job in stabilizing our mixture or custard.
From the starch family, we can also find the tapioca starch which is a bit less popular and can be bought in the south Asian groceries, it does the same trick.
In addition, there are other stabilizers like, xanthan gum and guar gum which belong to the Hydrocolloids family, these are natural thickening agents which are produced from fruits or plants. The use of the Hydrocolloids is common in various ice creams and contributes to the soft texture.
Another popular stabilizer is the gelatin which we know from the baking and pastry world, it can be produced naturally from animal bones or artificially, in any case, the use for gelatin is mostly for sorbet where the water percentage is significantly higher than the dairy ice creams.
A scientific fact is that ‘sugars do not freeze’ knowing this will help us achieving our desired texture. Even though we know that sugars don’t turn into ice crystals, we do have various kind of freezing resistance from different kinds of sugars, in order to get to the smooth texture we need to play with it.
There is an abundant of sugars variety around, our regular sugar is called sucrose and this is also the most popular in homemade ice creams however the pros play with different kinds of sucrose based sweeteners (never use the artificial replacements) because of their effect on texture.
Corn syrup is a very popular one, easy to buy and a light sweetener that affects the ice cream melting and freezing point thus making it less dense.
Dextrose is another natural sugar, it is also called glucose powder, produced from maize and processed in a way that breaks out the starch molecules until there is only pure glucose left. Dextrose has a low sweetness level and can be used whenever we want other ingredients (usually natural fruits) to shine.
Another alternative sugar with good anti crystallization properties is the invert sugar which is produced by heating sucrose water and sodium bicarbonate. this sugar will create a much softer and stable texture.
To cook or not to cook?
It’s a big question whether to cook the mixture or not, it depends on many factors. let me start by saying that, in general, cooking is good for the ice cream initial mix because it evaporates water molecules that will be crystallized when frozen making the ice cream dense, not the soft serve texture we are looking for.
Cooking also is essential in some kind of ice cream, vanilla for example, where we make a custard, heating milk and tempering the eggs.
Cooking is not essential in sorbets, in this form we would like to keep the vibrant flavor of the fruit, cooking makes it a bit blend, again with some exceptions, like in fruits that we can extract more flavor thru cooking like cherries, peaches, pears etc.
The proportions of dairy vary as well, if you want a creamy rich ice cream we often use 2:1 ratio, cream to whole milk. Using a high fat mix will in some cases blur the flavors which will affect the final outcome for example, in chocolate ice cream I often use ratio of 1:1 in order for the chocolate to shine. The Sicilian way is to reduce eggs and heavy cream, this will make the flavors intense, on account of creaminess.
Additional dairy variations are sour cream that adds a nice tangy flavor and condensed milk which contributes to the ice cream smooth texture.
One of the key elements that contributes to the ice cream texture is the temperature of the mixture. It is important to chill the ice cream mix for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, it is important that the mixture will be cold when it enters the machine because it will take the ice cream maker less time to churn it, hence reducing the amount of air in the mix and making a smoother ice cream. Another reason is that the ice cream mix will have better flavors when the mix is resting in the fridge for longer time, making the fluids in the mix spread better and get us a better consistency.
After cooking it is important to chill the mix as fast as possible to prevent bacteria from forming, the most efficient way is the ice bath, and straight to the fridge for resting.
The minute the ice cream is out of the machine place it in a solid container and insert into the freezer, we don’t want the ice cream to melt (especially in hot weather) reducing the air in the mixture.