Chai hazelnut milk ice cream with chocolate chips, here I come.
March 22, 2011 2:39 PM   Subscribe

What are the principles of making ice cream?

I can find plenty of ice cream recipes, but I want to know the general principles that can help me fulfill my ice cream dreams. Can I use any kind of milk I please -- e.g. soy milk, soy yogurt, greek yogurt, canned coconut milk, almond milk, half & half, combinations thereof? Is agar or another thickener necessary, and what happens without it? How do sweeteners fit in -- agave, sugar, maple syrup, whatever -- and how do they change the ice cream's properties? I have a Cuisinart ice cream maker.
posted by Wordwoman to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

Good Eats - Ice Cream
posted by empath at 2:40 PM on March 22, 2011

Liquid+Cold+Air (added via agitation) = Ice Cream.

Other ingredients that change flavor and consistency are fats, binding agents like agar or gelatin, sugars, spices, herbs, etc. etc. etc.

If I can find a chart, I'll post back here. Figure that "thin" liquids produce sorbets and ice milks, while denser richer liquids produce velvety ice creams and the like.

One of the biggest determiners of texture is the method used to add air and cause freezing.

Fine air bubbles and quick freezing produce a richer product.

Big air bubbles and a slower freezing time produces a harder product once fully frozen featuring big tasteless ice shards. Yuck to that!

Your homemade ice cream in that cuisinart produces a kinda "middle of the road" product.

IMHO, you will get better results with that machine if the liquid you start off with is already very cold and has a lot of fat in it.
posted by jbenben at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ice cream is a complicated issue. There are different styles - made with milk, made with cream, with eggs, without eggs. They are all good. Ice cream made with milk can seem creamier than stuff made with cream. It's a marvelous mystery.
I suggest you experiment with different styles. Check this terrific previous AskMe post.
One of the best ice creams I ever made was from an answer in that AskMe post - just coconut milk and lime juice and sugar and water. Great texture and wonderful flavor.
(Thickeners? I've never used thickeners.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2011

The amount of sugar also affects texture: the more you have, the softer the product.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:58 PM on March 22, 2011

You can use any kind of milk you please... the less fat (cream) you use the icier the consistency.

Agar can help with mouthfeel (smoothness) if you use less fat.

You can use whichever sweetener you want... but, again, if you use a liquid sweetener you may need more cream to compensate for the additional liquid.

Sugar plays a KEY role in ice cream consistency:

Experiment away! Make sure you chill all the ingredients overnight for best results!
posted by LittleMy at 3:04 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Adding alcohol-based flavorings (vanilla extract, for example, or any kind of liquor) lowers the freezing temperature of your base. This makes, in general, a softer product.

Depending on how cold your freezer is, this might be a desirable thing. I have added a bit more liquor to my base in the past, when the product would otherwise freeze to a solid brick in my very cold freezer.

Unless you have a very cold freezer, though, you don't want to put more alcohol-based flavoring into your base than you need to add flavor.

Ben and Jerry's recipe book should be bundled with every ice cream maker, IMO. You'll find lots of great advice on this and other ice cream-making matters.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:04 PM on March 22, 2011

If you want a really thick ice cream without adulterants, try making the custard base in this recipe for chocolate chip mint, but gently simmer the custard base to reduce by another third.

You must reduce very gently and keep things under 160', because otherwise you will cook the egg in the custard and get a congealed mess.

But if you are careful, you get a much thicker base for the final product.

The ice cream is so rich and mouth-meltingly thick, in fact, that I actually get about 50% of the final product I would otherwise get with the recipe as-is.

But it's so thick and satisfyingly flavorful that I only need to scoop about half of what I would otherwise serve.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:09 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ice Cream inputs that determine texture
fat content - there are classic ratios of whole milk to cream for a philly style ice cream of 1:2 for example. Custard based ice creams are more like 2.5:2.5:1 milk:cream:yolks. For other products its just a question of doing the math on fat content - and taking into account how saturated the fats are (for mouthfeel issues)
sugar content - key for sorbets - too little and its uber icy. Invert sugars (agave, honey, corn syrup) bat above their weight wrt to inhibiting crystalization.
emulsifiers - normally egg yolks, sometimes starches, pectins for sorbets
Temp of churn
Temp of cure

play around with those and you'll see the differences pretty quickly.

Then you get to the tradeoff between texture and flavor. Basically the more fat and emulsifiers, the less intensely flavor the ice cream is
posted by JPD at 6:07 PM on March 22, 2011

To make "proper" ice cream you need to use a dairy product base which will, if emulsified with egg, reduce to form a custard.

However, you can throw just about any liquid you want into an ice cream maker and emerge with a cold, tasty dessert. Juice will make sorbet. Add a little liquor and you get granita. Whole milk + (sweetness, nomitude) = delicious "ice milk". I'm sure you could create some sort of vegan ice cream substitute with soy, rice, or almond milk. It might be closer to sorbet than proper ice cream, though.
posted by Sara C. at 7:48 PM on March 22, 2011

I have that same maker, and I wanted to put in a recommendation for sorbets made with it. They're easier to assemble and you won't believe the flavor you get from using fresh fruits.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 8:02 PM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Might as well piggyback on this one. What's the best recipe anyone here has for ice cream that doesn't require anything with higher milkfat than whole milk? I live in Japan and it's pretty darned hard to find cream here in any quantity greater than expensive 200mL cartons.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:54 AM on March 23, 2011

I'll just add that I tried an ice cream experiment which used heavy whipping cream (30ish % fat if I recall). The result was way too fatty and had a gross mouth feel, FYI.
posted by Menthol at 5:10 AM on March 23, 2011

This won't answer your question directly, but David Lebovitz is my ice-cream making guru. His book The Perfect Scoop will tell you pretty much everything you want to know, including what happens when you substitute different milks, sugars, levels of fat etc.

There's also a lot of ice-cream-related links and questions anwered here on his website.
posted by celerity at 5:35 AM on March 23, 2011

For references sources, check out Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking, which has a section on ice cream that does a good job explaining the science behind how ice cream works. Cookwise by Shirley O. Corriher also has a long discussion of the principles of ice cream and sorbet making. (I'm sure you can get both of these books from the library.)

The agar/thickener thing has been interesting me lately. My research is not complete, but I notice that the best texture of any ice cream I have ever made came from Alton Brown's Serious Vanilla Ice Cream, which calls for a few tablespoons of peach preserves. The preserves provide pectin, which seems to help immensely with texture and prevents the ice cream from getting super hard in the freezer over time. I also notice that when I make frozen yogurt with a pectin-containing yogurt, I get the same results. (I've also made frozen yogurt with pectin-free yogurt, and that stuff freezes harder than a cinder block.)

I've been meaning to try out some ice cream stabilizer, which you can get online, but haven't gotten my hands on any yet.
posted by crLLC at 7:19 AM on March 23, 2011

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