Cloudy Skid Marks Recipe

The guys over at Penny Arcade mentioned a s’mores snack mix and I wanted to make a gluten free version.  I’ve tried several concoctions now and none are bad but this one will get you on your way to your own perfect mix.  Please let me know in the comments below of any other magical combos the rest of us should try.

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Simple Delicious Homemade Ice Cream

There is a light bulb moment the time you make your first dessert.  Things that look complicated are really simple.  Cookies seem complex until you find out they are little more than butter and sugar.  Frosting is even simpler.  You can literally make it from just butter and sugar.  In this pantheon of simple but sweet, we should include ice cream.  It tastes great but what is it?  “I know there is a loud machine and a lot of ice involved.  It must be too hard to make.  Please pass the Häagen-Dazs.”

Hold on!  Ice cream is simple.  With the right equipment and the recipes I’m about to give you, you can have soft serve sitting in your lap in about an hour.

Step One – Get the right kind of ice cream maker.  Unless you really love ice cream or have a large family, sell that giant beast of an ice cream maker lurking in the corner of the garage.  You want a smaller, quicker and easier machine.  We received the Cuisinart ICE-20 as a gift one year and it works great.  It is such a simple device that I’m sure you can find something comparable for about $50 (example).

“Can’t I just mix the ingredients together and stick them in my freezer?  Then I don’t need an ice cream maker.”  Only if you want a solid ice brick instead of ice cream.  The ice cream maker freezes the concoction while it is whipping air into it.

Preferred Ice Cream Maker Specifications
1. 1-1/2 to 2 quart capacity
2. Reusable freezer bowl (liquid core freezes so no ice used)
3. Simple to set up, operate and clean.

From Left to Right: Cover, Paddle, Freezer Bowl, Motorized Base

Step Two – Develop your base recipe.
The first ice cream aha moment came when we made our first batch of vanilla.  You freeze milk, cream, sugar and vanilla extract while whipping air into it.  That’s all there is to it.  Simple!

My second aha moment was when I realized that pretty much every flavor of ice cream uses the same base and adds in different flavorings and those flavorings are usually in about the same proportions.  Wow!  That means you can get new flavors pretty true to what you want with very little experimenting.

So let’s develop our base recipe first.  Everyone has slightly different ideas about what ice cream should taste and feel like.  Almost all of this is controlled by the amount of butterfat that is used.  You can get butterfat from a number of dairy ingredients like whipping cream, 2% milk and so on.  To keep things simple I recommend that you work with two sources:  heavy cream (it has the highest concentration at 36%) and whole milk (3 to 4%).

Try this recipe for vanilla first.

Vanilla Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Mix milk and sugar in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
4.  Add cream and vanilla and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
5. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is thick and frozen (probably 30 minutes).
6. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Next, modify the recipe to suit your tastes.  Most recipes call for two cups of heavy cream and one cup of whole milk.  We thought that tasted great and was very smooth but it leaves a greasy feeling in your mouth.  One cup of heavy cream and two cups of whole milk is acceptable but the ice cream begins to get a little more crunchy and I wouldn’t reduce the butterfat below this level.  As you can see with our recipe above, we settled right in the middle.

A note about eggs.  The very best ice creams use eggs.  Look on the side of Ben & Jerry’s and you’ll see them listed.  Why are they there?  Well, they serve as an emulsifier suspending all those little butterfat particles.  They also impart a nice texture, increase the shelf life and aid in whipping air into the mixture.  We don’t include them here because they are either added raw or really add complexity to the recipe when you cook them into a custard.  You can make great tasting ice cream without them so we leave them out.

Step Three – Go crazy with the combo moves.
You have your base tweaked just the way you like it.  Now comes the fun part.  Get creative and mix tasty stuff into it.

I’ve found that usually one teaspoon of liquids and two cups of chopped up or small solids works well so use this as a starting point.  Here are three recipes that we really like:

Oreo Mint Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 cups coarsely chopped Oreos

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Mix milk and sugar in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
4.  Add cream and peppermint and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
5. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is relatively thick but not completely frozen (probably 28 minutes).
6. Add Oreos and mix for two minutes until ice cream is thick and frozen.  NOTE:  You may need to remove a little of the base before adding the Oreos if your machine is small and whips in a lot of air.
7. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 6 cups

1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups Reece’s Peanut Butter Minis (1 bag – the tiny unwrapped ones)

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Mix milk, sugar and peanut butter in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until mixture is smooth.
4.  Add cream and vanilla and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
5. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is relatively thick but not completely frozen (probably 28 minutes).
6. Add PB minis and mix for two minutes until ice cream is thick and frozen.  NOTE:  You may need to remove a little of the base before adding the PB minis if your machine is small and whips in a lot of air.
7. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Peach Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

2 cups finely chopped peaches (about 4 small peaches – small have less water & better taste)
½ juice of a lemon
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1-1/2 cups sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2. Keep all ingredients cold – store in refrigerator until just before using.
3. Combine peaches, lemon juice and ½ cup of sugar in a medium bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.  Stir mixture occasionally (if desired).
4. Stir mixture and strain liquid into a separate bowl.  Return peaches to refrigerator.
5. Mix peach juice, milk and remaining 1 cup of sugar in medium bowl on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
6.  Add cream and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
7. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is relatively thick but not completely frozen (probably 28 minutes).
8. Add peaches and mix for two minutes until ice cream is thick and frozen.  NOTE:  You may need to remove a little of the base before adding the peaches if your machine is small and whips in a lot of air.
9. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

Be sure to let me know about your fantastic cream creations.  I’m always looking for an excuse to eat more ice cream.

Update:  Here are all four ice cream recipes on a one-page layout.

Homemade Marshmallows and Homemade Super S’mores

*** Update:  I now recommend two bags of chocolate chips as shown in the corrected recipe below.  This works great if you spread the chocolate out a little more.  It is easy to put on so much chocolate that it is almost too thick to bite through once it cools.  Thinning it out makes it a little easier to eat.  ***

If you have never made homemade marshmallows, you should give it a try.  “But Jason,” you say, “How are those any different from store bought?  You can’t get much more basic than marshmallows.  They are just sugar with air and water whipped in to them and some animal parts to help keep their shape.”  This statement is true, but it is the freshness factor that really makes a big difference.  Ever found a half-eaten bag in a desperate hour (like when you wife is on a no-sugar kick and you’ve already consumed all other dessert options)?  Those things taste like Styrofoam because time is a marshmallow’s enemy.  Once you’ve had a batch of homemade, you’ll see that a “fresh” bag of store bought is still rather bland.

Homemade Marshmallows

They can be a bit sticky if you don’t work with them quickly while they are still hot, but other than that they are simple to make.  They take maybe 15 minutes to create and then a couple of hours to cool.  Be sure not to sample them too quickly!  The molten sugar concoction is like sun napalm.

Marshmallows
Non-stick cooking spray
½ cup cold water
(3) ¼ oz packages of unflavored gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
-or-
2 to 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Confectioner’s sugar

Line a 9”x13” baking dish with plastic wrap leaving an overhang on ends.  Lightly spray with cooking spray (if you put it on too heavy you’ll be able to taste it).

In a large mixing bowl combine gelatin with ½ cup cold water.  Let stand 10 minutes.

In a medium saucepan combine granulated sugar, corn syrup and ¼ cup water.  Bring mixture to rapid boil over medium-high heat.  Boil for one minute.  Immediately add to gelatin mixture.  WARNING:  Sugar mixture will be extremely hot and gelatin will be extremely stinky.

Using an electric mixer, start mixing on slow to avoid flipping hot liquid out of the bowl.  Increase speed to high as soon as mixture begins to thicken.  Add salt and continue to mix for 12 minutes.  Before your eyes the mixture will turn into marshmallow!  Add peppermint or vanilla extract and mix until fully combine.  NOTE:  Two teaspoons of vanilla will kill the gelatin smell and three will really allow you to taste the vanilla more.

Immediately pour mixture into pan.  If you work quick enough this will be easy.  If you take too long, you may need a spatula coated with cooking spray to coax the contents out of the bowl.  Let cool for 2 hours.

Lift marshmallows from pan using your convenient overhang plastic wrap handles.  Cut marshmallows into approximate 2” squares.  You may need to rinse your knife between cuts or give it a squirt of cooking spray.  Place about ¼ cup of confectioner’s sugar in the baking pan.  Lift marshmallows from plastic wrap one at a time and toss in pan to coat.  Add more sugar to pan as needed.

Marshmallows will begin to lose their freshness after about three days.

And of course, I wanted to try coating them with chocolate.  We tried:  semi-sweet, bittersweet and butterscotch.  We tried putting them on chocolate and regular graham crackers too.  Our order of preference was:

  1. Semi-sweet with grahams
  2. Semi-sweet
  3. Plain
  4. Bittersweet with grahams
  5. Bittersweet
  6. Butterscotch

There really wasn’t a big diff between regular and chocolate grahams.  We think the ultimate would be mix of semi and dark.  The semi was the most complimentary flavor with the marshmallows but the dark had a wonderful chocolate finish.  Milk chocolate would probably be too sweet.  C’mon, you are pouring chocolate over a sugar square.  Believe it or not, you’ll need three bags of chocolate chips to coat one batch of marshmallows!  So if you want to try making super s’mores, I’d suggest:

Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Grahams
1 batch of marshmallows
(2) 12oz bags of chocolate chips (1 semi-sweet Ghirardelli and 1 bittersweet 60% cacoa Ghirardelli recommended)
1 box of honey graham crackers

Cover large plates or cookie sheets (whatever will fit in your refrigerator or freezer) with wax paper.  Break graham crackers in half (squares) and place on wax paper.

Why You Put This Stuff on the Plate Before You Coat it in Chocolate

Place chocolate in double boiler and melt.  Don’t let the water touch the bottom of the top bowl.  Keep water at absolute lowest temp that will keep chocolate melted.  If the chocolate gets too hot, it will melt the marshmallows.  Surprisingly, the water doesn’t need to be boiling to keep the chocolate liquid.  If the water boils too long, you may scorch your chocolate.

Homemade Double Boiler
If Chocolate Gets Too Hot

Spoon a dollop of chocolate on a graham and place a marshmallow on top.  Place another dollop or two of chocolate on top of the marshmallow.  As the chocolate cools slightly you can use a spatula to spread the chocolate out and down the sides, but this is not necessary unless you prefer a thin shell of chocolate instead of a thick toupee on top.

Refrigerate until completely cool (15 minutes?).  You could leave them on the counter to cool but it will take longer than you think and then you’ll have a mess when you start gorging yourself.  Mom won’t be happy.

You will have a little extra chocolate at the end. Just dunk a few grahams in it and place them on wax paper to cool.  You may get as many as eight out of your leftovers depending on how heavy handed you are when you apply it to the marshmallows.

Dip Grahams in Extra Chocolate

Crumbled chocolate grahams, shaved chocolate bar or white chocolate drizzle would probably look nice on top.

Let me know in the comments if you try it and like it.  Except for the marshmallow cooling time, this recipe is fast.  A very quick potential turnaround from raw ingredients to stomach.

Heavyweight Brownie Champs

If you don’t have an aversion to chocolate, you like brownies.  That’s just nutritional science.  If you are like most American families, your brownies come from a box.  Have you ever tried homemade brownies?  The difference is incredible.  Don’t get me wrong, I do not dislike box brownies but homemade brownies pack more chocolate punch.

On top of that, brownies are super easy to make from scratch.  You dump stuff together in one bowl, mix it, pour it into a pan and cook it.

There are some things you should know about brownies up front:
1.  They are allergic to nuts.  If you want a healthy snack, eat a handful of pecans or walnuts.  Leave them off brownies.  You are ruining them.
2.  They like to be a flat chewy black shingle of barely-cooked batter.  You cakesters can take your pan and go home.  If we wanted a fluffy chocolate dessert we would have made chocolate cake.
3.  Like any sane person, they will never turn away frosting.  However, the non-frosted recipes below lack nothing.

After years of personal tasting and trying different recipes, here are the three ways I’d recommend that you go depending on your objective:

Best Box – Fastest

Best Box Mix

Most box recipes are really quite bland.  You’ll wolf them down and like them, but to get a close-to-homemade flavor, I recommend Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate with Chocolate Chips.  They take about 2-3 minutes to prepare.  Cooking and cooling time is the same as homemade.

My one suggestion is to use a cooking-sprayed aluminum foil sling in your pan for easy removal.  If you don’t know how to make one, check out the video or read the recipe for Chewy Brownies below.

Ultimate Fudgy Brownies (Also Titled Chewy, Fudgy Triple Chocolate Brownies Sometimes) – Most Chocolate Flavor

I believe these brownies pack the most chocolate flavor, but that is up for debate in our household.  My wife contends that they offer nothing more than the Chewy Brownies discussed below.  Whoever is right, these brownies and the Chewy Brownies are a close #1 and #2.

The only issue is that these are drier than box mixes, which can be a bonus for brownies n’ ice cream.

You can find the recipe here.  I’m sorry it is behind America’s Test Kitchen’s pay wall (14 days for free).

Chewy Brownies – The Winner

Chewy Brownies

These brownies are the best all-around brownies you can make.  They have great chocolate taste and great texture.  There are chunks of chocolate hidden inside and if you really pay attention there is a complementary shot of espresso flavor.

The secret to the texture is a mixture of saturated fat (butter) and unsaturated fat (veggie oil).  The unsaturated fat stays liquid at room temp giving the brownies a more gooey fudgy texture that has been the hallmark of box brownies since time began.

The biggest disadvantages of these brownies are that they take more time to prepare (not much – maybe 15 minutes?) and are the most expensive because they use lots of different kinds of chocolate.  One thing to keep in mind price-wise is that these make about 1/3 more brownies than the Ghirardelli boxed version.

You can find the recipe for free here where you can watch an instructional video or download the recipe.  To get the written recipe you do have to provide an email address.

NOTE:  For whatever reason they make two measurement errors in the video (written recipe is correct).  Use 4 tablespoons of melted butter and 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil NOT 4-1/2 tablespoons of melted butter and 1-1/2 cups vegetable oil.  1-1/2 cups of oil would have these things swimming.  Yuk!

Taste Test

Last night at a Super Bowl party I decided to put the Chewy Brownies to the test.  We pitted them against the Ghirardelli brownies and results were unanimous.  Chewy Brownies are better.  One attendee described the difference between them best when he said that they were “Sweeter, more chocolaty and also more bitter all at the same time”.

If you think you can beat these recipes, please post your thoughts in the comments below.