Make summer’s favorite creamy, dreamy treat like a boss
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Strawberry Gelato
Credit: Victor Protasio

I can’t get behind no-churn ice creams. As much as I love the idea of not needing an ice cream machine to make grade-A ice creams at home, the no-churn business never lives up to its hyped expectations. That said, if you are a serious ice cream connoisseur, making the frozen dairy treat from scratch is a worthy technique to learn and master. Once you understand the basics of making the cool, creamy custard (and get yourself an ice cream maker), you can dream up an unlimited possibility of fun custom flavors.

I tapped Julia Levy, one of our test kitchen’s recipe developers and resident ice cream aficionado, to gather insight and her best pro-tips for making ice cream at home. First, let’s cover a few technicalities about what is considered ice cream. American-style, or Philadelphia-style, ice cream does not contain eggs; the base for this dessert is made simply milk, cream, and sugar. While French-style ice cream contains egg; more specifically, egg yolks. American-style is considered a bit easier to prepare, as it doesn’t require cooking a stovetop; however, the rich, custardy French-style is arguably more satisfying.

Both Levy and I agreed on French being our personal preference; thus, the following pointers address the incorporation of egg yolks. Read on to better understand the anatomy of your favorite frozen treat.

The Yolks

The protein-rich, fatty egg yolks give your ice cream its creamy and dense foundation. Crack open 6 eggs and separate the whites from the yolks. You can set the whites aside to make macarons or a meringue if you are feeling ambitious. Place your yolks in a large bowl and whisk in ¼ cup of sugar; set the bowl aside and move onto the other half of your base.

The Cream + Milk +Sugar

Fat present in the cream and milk also contribute to the smooth, luscious consistency of your final product. You’ll want to combine 2 cups heavy cream, 1 cup whole milk, and ½ cup sugar in a medium saucepan and bring it to a low simmer just enough for the sugar to completely dissolve.

Bringing Everything Together

Now that the cream mixture is warm you will need to combine it with yolks. Since the cream mixture is warm, you will need to temper the yolks—which simply means you gently bring them to the same temperature. Remove your saucepan from the heat and ladle about a cup of the cream mixture into the bowl of yolks. Use a whisk to gently combine the liquids as your pouring the first ladle-full of liquid in. Ladle in another cup of the cream mixture, continuing to whisk, until all the cream is mixed in with the yolks. By gradually incorporating the cream mixture to the yolks, you prevent the yolks from curdling from the heat.

The mixture will then go back onto the heat to cook further and thicken. Pour the mixture into the saucepan and bring it to a low simmer over medium-low heat, gently stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, for about 10-15 minutes or until thickened. You may get a few “scrambled” egg bits (seemingly unavoidable the first couple of times), however, you can easily remedy this by straining the entire mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.

The custard should achieve a nappe consistency, which is the French culinary term to describe this specific thickness of a sauce. The nappe consistency is determined when the sauce—in this case, custard mixture—evenly coats the back of a spoon. You test the thickness by drawing a line with your finger across the custard-coated spoon; if the line is clean and does not drip, your custard has reached the right consistency.

Depending on how you want to flavor your ice cream (i.e extracts, liqueur, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate) you can add the flavoring agents in at this point. If the flavors are more texture-sensitive such as cookies or soft cheeses, you can add them halfway through the churning.

The Chill

The initial chill of your ice cream base is very important. This sets the tone for forming smooth ice crystals. Refrigerate the custard for 8 hours at minimum, and up to a full 24-hours. This gives the custard time to mature and meld the cream and yolks together. At the same time, chill the basin to your ice cream machine. Basically, everything needs to be thoroughly chilled before the churning process can commence. Go ahead and also chill the container (usually a plastic quart container or any other airtight container) that the ice will hard freeze in as well.

The Churn

After the chilling time has passed, place the basin into your ice cream machine and fill it with the custard. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for your ice cream maker and churn your custard for about 15 minutes. The custard will have thickened into a super soft serve-like consistency. Transfer it to your chilled container and cover the surface of your ice cream with a sheet of parchment paper to prevent ice crystals from forming over the top. Now, freeze for 3 to 4 hours or overnight.

While you are waiting for the time to pass… maybe binge watch your favorite Netflix show and alert your friends that you are having an ice cream party in approximately 3 hours. Grab your ice cream scoop and a giant waffle cone to celebrate the fruits of your labor. Once you get the hang of it, making ice cream will become a natural process and favorite weekend endeavor. It’s also an ideal treat to make the next time your feel the need to procrasti-bake; because let’s face it, nothing sets off a warm brownie like a scoop of homemade, procrati-churned ice cream.