Making ice cream, at its simplest, is a matter of beating cream, eggs, sugar, and flavorings together and stirring this mixture frequently while it freezes. This is easily done by hand, though you’ll need to set aside about 4 or 5 hours to do so. An electric ice cream maker will save time and effort, and it does produce a softer, smoother, and creamier result.
Ice cream makers
There are many ice cream machines available today to fit all price brackets. The simplest consist of a bucket container that needs to be frozen for at least 24 hours in advance, creating an aluminum ice bucket. This is fitted into a base with an electric paddle top and enclosed lid. When you turn on the machine and pour in the mixture, it churns inside the pre-iced bucket until sufficiently frozen. The fully automatic machines are large, heavy, and costly, because they have a built-in cooling system. You don’t have to prefreeze the bucket and you can buy one with a timer, so you can switch it on and leave it. You still need to be ready at the end, however, to decant the frozen ice quickly into a container for the final minutes of freezing or for storage.
Basic hand-mixing method
It is the blending and whisking that gives the smooth creamy finish we associate with a really good ice cream. If you use an ice cream maker, your ice cream will have 30 to 40 minutes of consistent stirring or churning. Making it by hand can produce as good a result but with some more effort.
The ingredients for hand-mixed ice cream should be well chilled before they’re combined. The mixture is then poured into a freezer container deep enough to allow space for later mixing. The container needs to be covered with a sheet of plastic wrap or waxed paper so it can freeze more evenly, and then topped with a well-fitting lid. Place the container in the coldest part of a really cold freezer. Leave for about 1 hour; then, using a fork, scrape the frozen ice cream in from the edges, and then whisk to a smooth, even texture. Cover the container again and return to the freezer for another hour. Repeat this process once or twice more at least, until the ice cream is smooth and nearly evenly frozen. Then cover and leave it to freeze completely.
Marbling & rippling
Marbled or rippled ice creams look terrific and give the bonus of extra flavor. To make one, prepare the ice cream in a machine or by hand. Then, as you transfer it to a freezer container (or after the final stirring of a hand-mixed ice cream), spoon on the rippling or marbling ingredient or sauce and fold it in just a couple of times. Do not stir it through. The real marbling and rippling effect is acquired when you later scoop out the ice cream.
Molding & shaping
When ice cream is sufficiently mixed and firm but not frozen hard, it can be put into a shaped container or mold, but work quickly because it will be softening all the time. Be sure to make the top completely flat and scrape away any excess from the edges so it’s easier to unmold. Cover with waxed paper and refreeze as soon as possible. It is also helpful to line any molds or pans with plastic wrap for easy removal.
Ice cream can be piped if it is a perfectly smooth recipe, with no seeds or texture, and if it is well frozen but not solid. Place a small quantity in a piping bag with a fluted nozzle and pipe swirls quickly into a chilled dish, cupcake liners, or onto serving wafers and return to the freezer immediately. Only do a small quantity at a time, because your hands on the bag will speed up melting time.
Scooping & serving
Most ice creams are best almost as soon as they are made, as long as they’ve had 15 to 20 minutes in the freezer to firm up before you scoop out servings. Once an ice cream has frozen hard, you will need to allow 10 to 15 minutes at room temperature - or at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator - to soften sufficiently to scoop. It’s a good idea to chill your serving dishes in advance. Once an ice cream has been fully defrosted, it should not be returned to the freezer. Ice creams rarely improve with keeping; they often just get harder.
There are two types of scoop - the round spring-loaded scoop, and the oval half spoon. The latter produces small shapes and half scoops. The spring-loaded variety comes in different sizes, from melon ball size to small tennis ball size. To get a good scoop, dip the head in water, shake off the excess, and pull the scoop over the surface of the ice cream, allowing it to roll inside the scoop and make a good shape. If there’s time, place the scooped ice cream on a baking sheet or directly into serving dishes and refreeze until it firms up again.
Homemade ice creams are not designed for long storage. A maximum of a day or two is ideal, especially for an ice with a high water and fruit content, because they get harder with time. Obviously, it is lovely to be able to turn a glut of fresh berries into a delicious batch of sorbet for the freezer. In this case add a piece of plastic wrap along the top of the ice cream, under the container lid, and don’t open until required. Cream-based mixtures can be stored longer; check the recipes for storage recommendations.
An electric blender or food processor is useful for mixing and whisking. Measuring cups and spoons will ensure you get your quantities right, and a supply of freezer containers with tight-fitting lids will be needed to store the ice creams. Plastic scrapers and spoons are vital if you are using an ice cream machine so you don’t scratch the aluminum container.