The Scoop on Making the Best Homemade Ice Cream
If there's one treat that many people find impossible to resist, it's ice cream. It's sweet, creamy, and irresistibly satisfying. Ice cream is also surprisingly easy to make at home, so long as you have the right approach. Read on to learn how to make your favorite style of ice cream—plus, get pro tips for whipping up your best batch yet.
Different Styles of Ice Cream
There are four main types of ice cream says Michael McKinnell, executive chef at Mordecai Chicago: custard-based, Philadelphia-style, egg-free, and no-churn. Custard-based ice cream is made with cooked egg yolks, resulting in an ultra-rich dessert. The eggs also act as a natural stabilizer, so it doesn't require other ingredients to achieve a silky texture, says McKinnell. (Store-bought ice creams often contain stabilizing ingredients like guar gum and carrageenan.) Philadelphia-style ice cream, sometimes called American or New York ice cream, is an eggless variety made with milk, cream, and sugar. Since it contains no eggs, it's less rich than custard-based ice cream and doesn't require any cooking. Similarly, egg-free ice cream contains no eggs, but it uses cream cheese and cornstarch in the base. This type of ice cream is delightfully thick and smooth. No-churn ice cream also doesn't require eggs or cooking—but as the name suggests, it's made without an ice cream machine. This style of ice cream, which features a base of whipped heavy cream, is particularly airy and light. In fact, the consistency is more like a chocolate mousse, according to McKinnell.
How to Make Homemade Ice Cream
The exact process for making homemade ice cream depends on the type. But generally, it involves making a base, churning it in an ice cream machine, and freezing it until firm. To make a classic egg-based ice cream, the first step is to make a custard. Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a saucepan, then slowly whisk in milk. Cook the mixture over medium heat while stirring constantly. The custard is ready once it evenly coats the back of a spoon, which can take between five to 10 minutes. (Not sure if your custard is ready? Use your finger to draw a line across the back of your spoon. If it retains the line, it's good to go.) Next, pour the custard through a sieve into a large bowl over ice. This will stop the custard from cooking. Once chilled, you can add ingredients like alcohol-based flavorings such as vanilla extract, says Stephen Chavez, chef-instructor of pastry and baking arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. Avoid adding these flavorings during the cooking process or while the custard is still hot, as the alcohol might cause the mix to "break," and you'll need to start over, he adds.
The next step is to churn the mixture in your ice cream machine. Chavez recommends churning it only to "soft serve" consistency, even if you're not actually making soft serve. "Remember, ice cream is still made of cream. If it's over-churned, you begin to create butter, which affects the final texture," he says. Specifically, it will become hard and chunky, rather than smooth and creamy. After churning the ice cream, you can fold in "floating garnishes" like chocolate chips, frozen strawberry bits, or nuts. It's best to do this after churning (and before storage) as most machines don't work well with such ingredients, says Chavez. Finally, transfer the ice cream to an airtight plastic container, then place in the freezer until frozen, about four hours.
Ice Cream Without a Machine
No machine? No problem. Make no-churn ice cream, which doubles as a no-cook option. Simply whip heavy cream and confectioner's sugar until it develops a whipped cream consistency, then fold it into sweetened condensed milk. Add flavorings, if using, and pour the mixture into an air-tight plastic container and freeze it for one hour, folding it occasionally. Continue to mix the ice cream every hour for about four hours, then let it sit in the freezer for another two hours (untouched) before serving, says McKinnell.
Related: Why You Should Add an Ice Cream Scoop to Your List of Kitchen Essentials
How to Store Homemade Ice Cream
According to McKinnell, homemade ice creams typically have short shelf lives. That's because DIY varieties are made without chemical stabilizers, which are responsible for the longevity of store-bought versions. Still, most homemade ice creams will last about one month in the freezer, as long as you store them properly, says McKinnell. To start, always "pack" the ice cream into its container, recommends Chavez. This involves pressing down on the ice cream to remove air bubbles. "Air bubbles cause ice crystals, which damage the final consistency of the product once it's frozen," explains Chavez. Also, protect the "skin" of the ice cream by placing plastic wrap directly on top. According to Chavez, this ensures no excess air or moisture accumulates on the ice cream, helping it stay smooth and creamy. Add the plastic wrap right after you have "packed" the ice cream, then again, every time you scoop some out.