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.

Advertisements

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.

Cookie Quest Part II

A long time ago in a post this far away, I discussed the joy of finding and using Williams-Sonoma Star Wars cookie cutters.  I also reviewed three sugar cookie recipes.  Well, you wrote to me letting me know that there were better recipe options available.  I think you can see where we are headed – another cookie test and me feeling a little guilty about eating dozens of cookies.

Once again the cutters performed flawlessly.  They are not up for debate so let’s move on to the dough.

Up first, we have an emailed recipe.  Once you have started studying these things, you see that most sugar cookie recipes are nearly identical.  This one is radically different in that it uses sour cream and nutmeg.

Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies

4 cups sifted all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup soft butter
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

1.  sift flour with baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg; set aside

2.  In a large bowl with electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter, sugar, and egg until light and fluffy

3.  At low speed beat in sour cream and vanilla until smooth

4.  Gradually add flour mixture, beating until well combined

5.  Form dough into balls and wrap in waxed paper or foil.  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

6.  On a lightly floured surface roll out dough about 1/4″ inch thick and cut into shapes.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees about 10 minutes or until light golden brown.

Next up is an oldie that was stuffed in our recipe drawer.  Why didn’t I look here before?  It too was unusual in that it used vegetable oil.  That doesn’t sound appetizing, but the total fat count for this one is roughly double the other recipes.  Maybe that will save the flavor.

Very Best Sugar Cookies

1 cup vegetable oil
2 sticks butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 beaten eggs
5 cups flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

In a large bowl, cream together oil, butter and both sugars.

Mix in vanilla and eggs.

In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, cream of tartar, salt and baking soda.

Gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture blending well.

Divide dough into two balls.

Flatten dough balls into ½” thickness, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight.

On floured surface roll dough to ¼” thickness (dough may need to warm for 5 minutes first).

Cut dough into shapes, place on parchment lined cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes.

Once I’d made a ½ recipe of each of these and the official Williams-Sonoma recipe, I tried each of the doughs.  Of course all of the usual warnings apply about eating raw eggs.  I cannot suggest that you try that step at home.  The W-S dough was tough but tasty.  The old-fashioned dough was extremely smooth because of the sour creme and quite tasty but the nutmeg made them seem like something other than sugar cookies.  It reminded me of the America’s Test Kitchen recipe from our first go at this – a very tasty dough that really wasn’t a sugar cookie flavor.  The very best dough was extremely light, greasy and delicious.

Forming and baking the cookies revealed variations too.  W-S performed flawlessly again.  It was the easiest to work with and maintained crisp shapes when cooked.  The old-fashioned was a little more sticky and puffed up into more of a biscuit than the W-S but details were still easily readable.  Very best was a challenge.  Clearly this recipe is designed for round cookies only.  The dough was extremely sticky and lightweight which allowed it to tear if a liberal amount of flour and a spatula wasn’t used.  Cooked cookies turned into puffy blobs.  Not good.

Boba = Williams-Sonoma Recipe. Vader = Old-Fashioned Recipe.
Stormtroopers = Very Best Recipe.

Finally, it was on to taste.  Our panel of three judges was in agreement.  W-S came to the plate with a dense and sweet cookie.  It had a very good standard sugar cookie flavor.  Old-fashioned had the best texture of any straddling the line between standard cookie and thin biscuit.  Strangely the nutmeg flavor was gone and, with a lower sugar content, these were the blandest of the bunch.  Finally, very best was still slightly greasy (like a chocolate chip cookie) but had the best flavor.  Sweet and delicious.  Even better than our taste-winner from round one.

As stated in the other article, there must be a balance between shape-holding ability and taste.  Unlike other cookies, no one makes sugar cookies for the taste alone.  They make them to cut into interesting shapes.  So based on this, here is my officially-endorsed ranked list:

1  Williams-Sonoma Sugar Cookies – included with SW cutters
2  Very Best Sugar Cookies – blobby but tasty
3  America’s Test Kitchen Sugar Cookies – blobby but tasty but not a sugar cookie flavor
4  Old-Fashioned Sugar Cookies – best texture but bland
5  Best Rolled Sugar Cookies – almost no flavor

I also tried the frosting recipe included with the cutters.  It is just a standard royal icing that obscures all of the details below it.  It would probably be much easier and better to use some sort of pour on glaze that was thin enough to let the details show through.

W-S Frosting Recipe Obscures All Details

Williams-Sonoma Star Wars Cookie Cutters

A few weekends ago I picked up these cool Star Wars cookie cutters since my brother’s kids are getting into Star Wars now.  I thought with the holidays coming up, we could have some fun making and decorating some SW cooks.  I want to do my part as a good uncle and, besides, they need to know about the Dark Side before the cool kids at school start telling them that everyone shoots lightning from their fingertips.

Even the box is Nice

This past weekend I had a test run to see how well they’d work and what recipe would be best.  I always remember sugar cookies as basically being little rice cakes with icing.  There had to be a decent recipe out there.  I opted to try three different recipes and mix any left over dough for a semi-fourth.  Since there are four cookie cutters, this worked out perfectly.  One shape per type of dough.

I first checked out my favorite recipe testing ground – America’s Test Kitchen.  It yielded this recipe.  Like me, they agreed that sugar cookies really are not very good most of the time.  Their recipe really jumpstarts the flavor by browning the butter (giving it a butterscotch flavor), using brown sugar, and a ton of vanilla.  It turns out they are right.  Melanie and I agreed that this was easily the tastiest cookie.  The problem is that they cheated to do it.  Everyone knows that sugar cookies are only made to cut into special shapes (and usually frost).  These cookies only work if made into a standard cookie disk.  What’s the point?  If you wanted regular-shaped cookies, you would have made chocolate chip.  As you can see below, “Blobba” Fett lost his shape almost completely.  No good.

Apparently There will be Disintegrations After All

Next up I searched online and came up with this recipe.  It was the highest rated by the most people.  It must be good right?  Wrong.  These were the worst cooks of the group. Almost zero flavor.

It turns out the best recipe was the one that came in the box with the cutters.  Two points for Williams-Sonoma.  The cooks were relatively sweet (even if it was not a complex flavor), they kept their shape great and the dough was pretty easy to work with.

Don't be a Vader Hater. He Tasted Good and Kept his Shape.

The mixed batch was not good.  The different doughs cooked at different rates so we got marbled cooks that were soft and bland and tooth-shattering and semi-burnt all in one mouthful.  I chose to eat the roughly dozen of these to spare anyone else from the dental distress.

My name is Yoda. I'm a souja. I'll mold you and fold you. I thought I tode you.

The cutters themselves performed flawlessly.  They cut the dough easily and imparted distinct and detailed accents to each cookie.  They cleaned up relatively easily.  I recommend pushing the plunger all the way down and scrubbing the edges of the face with one of those dish toothbrush thingies to prevent dough from hardening up there.

Freshly Pressed Yoda Cook

So there you have it.  Williams-Sonoma Star Wars cookie cutters and the included sugar cookie recipe is the way to go.  Let me know if you try them out.  Let me know if you make sugar cookies in any other cool shapes (Yes, I will delete R+ rated responses).