Getting started with homemade ice cream

Written by editor Nicole Bennett of Gidget Goes Home.

When a Simple Homemade reader, Kate, recently told me she was given an ice cream maker bow, and asked if I had any tips for her, I figured it was time to share my story.  

I'm coming up upon my three year anniversary with my love affair with homemade ice cream. I got my ice cream maker bowl a little while before that, but it was my twenty-ninth birthday, in February of 2010, when I really got hooked.

Who says you have to be served on your special day? My birthday was coming up, and I wanted to throw a party for some of my dearest friends. I'd always loved ice cream, and even tried to make it myself once or twice-- what better way to get acquainted with my ice cream maker bowl, and do something special to celebrate, than to pick a few recipes, and create a little spread for celebrating?

I hadn't even begun to scratch the surface of the plethora of homemade ice cream recipes out there in the world yet, so I simply went to the woman who knows something about everything in the realm of Homemade, Martha. I picked up her Classics cookbook, and chose three fruity flavors that would bring a summery flair to my winter birthday.

I planned out how many days I would need to make three flavors... each flavor would require time to defrost the bowl afterwards for at least a night, and then a good fifteen hours to refreeze it before I could use my bowl again. So about a week before, I got started on my first flavor.

The recipes were a bit intimidating, with lots of steps, and I was nervous at first-- how would I know when the custard was done? Would my ice cream thicken and freeze nicely, or remain liquidy and get icy? There was no way to know if I didn't buy the milk and cream and go for it.

When my first few batches turned out as a success, I was on the hunt for more flavors to try, natural sweeteners to experiment with, and recipes to tweak and make my own.

At night, when my daughter, almost three at the time, was asleep, I would bring out the mixing bowls. Because most of the recipes require cooking the mixture to some degree, it would often sit in my fridge chilling, until morning until Gigi would drag a chair to the kitchen counter to watch me pour the mixture into the frozen bowl.

I'd drape my Kitchen-aid with a towel to help keep the cool air in around the bowl, and we'd listen, impatiently, to the whir of the mixer as it churned my creamy mixture into dreamy, rich ice cream.

And that's the thing with homemade ice cream. It is amazingly rich and creamy. It's what a dessert should be like, honestly. A small bowl with a tricolor selection of homemade flavors satisfies the palate in ways that no commercially-made, store-bought ice cream ever will, because of its richness, it's creaminess, and the freshness of flavors.

Many friends and family members have experienced homemade ice cream now because of my experimenting, whether by way of Ice Cream Sundays, as a gift, or just dessert after dinner, and it's a simple pleasure I'm happy to share.

I won't say I won't indulge in a large bowl of whatever my parents have in their freezer (I'm only human), but after three years of developing a love for homemade ice cream, I've become quite the connoisseur of high-quality ice cream. P.S. When I'm not eating ice cream I made? I keep Trader Joe's ice cream on hand. It's made with simple ingredients and is akin to something I might have made.

Ingredients I can't pronounce and artificial colors simply will not completely satisfy me now that I've tasted and seen the faint hue of green in milk that's been infused with real mint leaves, or the hint of coral-pink that ensues from pouring freshly-squeezed blood orange juice into custard.

Flavors melding, texture developing, mixing, heating, cooling, freezing... there's truly an art to homemade ice cream-- it's called artisan oftentimes for a reason-- and while I've always loved eating this creamy frozen dessert, I now officially consider making it a hobby.

View the recipes I made at my birthday shindig three years ago here.

A few tips for the ice cream maker:

  • I love my Kitchenaid bowl attachment. In fact, I just got a second one (Thanks, Mom and Dad!) so I can now make multitple batches without having to defrost, wash and refreeze between every batch. I'll keep them both in my chest freezer and I love not having to store another appliance in my too-small kitchen cupboards.

  • The colder your mixture is the better. You want your bowl to freeze the mixture, not the mixture to defrost your bowl. Make sure you chill your mixture as much as possible before freezing it. Like I mentioned before, I drape my mixer with a clean kitchen towel to help keep the cold in.

  • Find a good base recipe if you want to experiment with your own flavors. I'll share some of my favorite recipes with you next week.

  • Freeze your ice cream for a few hours before serving or your ice cream will only be soft-set. I store mine in old Baskin-Robbins 1-quart containers (seems appropriate), yogurt containers or large plastic tubs, and give them as gifts in my Sweet Bliss containers.

  • Don't be afraid to experiment with alternative sweeteners. Ice cream is very forgiving I find. I always substitute brown rice syrup for light corn syrup if a recipe calls for it with great success, and have made ice creams with turbinado sugar, honey, coconut palm sugar and maple syrup.

Are you an ice cream maker? Be sure to leave a question in the comments if you're curious about something, and I'll try to help.

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