There is nothing more decadent than a bowl of homemade ice cream, especially chocolate ice cream.
A few months ago then a major online retailer offered a Cuisinart ice cream machine for $30 out the door, despite being very cash-poor at that time I pounced on it, and a brand new fire engine red machine was all mine! We have had possibly one of the coldest summers since 1938 and so my pretty machine has been slumbering away under a corner of my dining room.
Finally, a bit of warm weather arrived coinciding with a visit from my dear sister. She has been making the most amazing sounding ice creams for the past few years and has frequently tortured me with tales of Mexican chocolate, chile and chocolate, lemon custard and bing cherry ice creams.
After a chummy pajama day together I dusted off the pristine Cuisinart box and put the insert into my freezer. I was delighted (shocked) that it actually fit in there, given that I have probably the city’s cruddiest appliances in the current location of The Roost.
Under my sister’s expert tutelage I prepared a chocolate custard ice cream using our Mom’s vanilla custard base recipe.
As kids, mom would make fantastic ice creams in the old fashioned ice cream maker. She would fill the tall metal cylinder with luscious bases and our dad would layer the barrel of the maker with crushed ice and rock salt. Then, my sis and I and our friends would take over turning the crank handle round and round until we couldn’t turn it any more. We were always incredulous when dad would take over and like a hot knife through butter he would turn the handle a dozen times swiftly. Mom would check the consistency of the ice cream and then swaddle the maker, freshly filled with ice and salt, in our beach towels and newspaper to harden off the batch. The combination of the rock salt to ice creates a lower temperature which helps the ice cream freeze. Water with a higher salinity remains liquid under colder temperatures so as the ice melts in the ice cream churn it is colder than regular ice slush thus creating ideal ice cream making conditions.
In what seemed like an eternity, the ice cream maker would be unveiled and the frosted cylinder heaved out of the salty slush, gently toweled off, and the clear plastic lid would be pried off. Out came the metal paddle into our waiting paws, ready to slurp off the ice cream that adhered to the edges. Ah, heaven!!! It was always, without fail, the best ice cream ever on the planet.
My sis and I revised all of these memories, including the time mom made mint chocolate chip ice cream with large chocolate chips which were frozen like rocks in the ice cream. We all had bowls littered with chips at the bottom, then when they came to temperature we devoured them with our fingers.
With my sis’s supervision and encouragement, and some great advice from Neal Gottlieb of Three Twins fame (thanks Neal!), I scalded the cream and then melted 100% cacao mass into the cream with some vanilla paste, then dribbled in the beaten egg yolks, sugar and a tiny bit of flour and whisked it well. I cooked the custard slowly until it was extremely thick and rich, and then let it chill off in the fridge while we took yet another nap. I love pajama days!
It was getting close to dinner time and I preheated the oven for our roast loin of lamb marinated with rosemary and black garlic. While the lamb was coming to room temperature and the oven warmed up, I pulled out the ice cream base and began the final preparations.
I added a dash of espresso from our morning caffeine jolt and a good slosh of creme de cacao, a liqueur that had been languishing in the liquor closet for years, which made me wonder why on earth hadn’t I been using it more all of this time? Then, I added a full cup of Strauss heavy whipping cream, and we had a taste. Wow. Just like when preparing a cold soup, you must “over season” ice cream bases as the cold dampens the flavors. I added a touch more liqueur and pulled out the ice cream cylinder from the freezer and set things in motion.
The directions say the ice cream maker takes up to 30 minutes to finish churning the ice cream, which comes out the consistency of a soft serve. If the cylinder is properly frozen, per my expert sister, you can freeze two batches of ice cream in the cylinder. For my first attempt however, I just make 3 cups of base and it did take almost exactly 30 minutes.
When the ice cream begins to mound up on the beater and leave a hump of ice cream on the side it is finished churning. True enough, 30 minutes later my first batch of ice cream was done.
I scraped it into a freezer proof bowl and then with a wooden spatula scooped out the rest of the ice cream frozen to the sides and bottom of the cylinder. Then, just like when we were kids, we cleaned off the churn with greedy slurping sounds and then repaired to the sink to wash off the chocolate smears from our hands and faces.
The ice cream went into the freezer to harden and we turned our attentions to dinner. The lamb loin was quickly roasted in a hot oven while I made a fast salad of lemon tarragon vinaigrette, local greens and a lemon cucumber. Earlier in the day I made some ratatouille with yellow squash, slow roasted tomatoes and lots of garlic, added goat cheese and baked some feta and artichoke ravioli in the sauce (recipes to be shared another day).
Perfectly sated, we watched silly scifi movies with snarky commentary and then bolted upright from our perches on the couch and chair and said, “Hey, we can have ice cream now!”
I pulled the ice cream out of the freezer to soften a bit before scooping. It was a beautiful sight. It scooped out just like the best premium grocery store ice cream and the first taste was divine. Rich, chocolately, enough butterfat on the roof of the mouth, the espresso accentuated the chocolate and the slight boozey component of the liqueur really came through. This is not your average ice chocolate ice cream! And, the best part was that we made it together, and it was a snap to do.
Funny thing though, some folks on Twitter asked me if I thought it was worth the effort to make ice cream at home. After a face-palm I tried to elucidate why I bother making *anything* at home. Sure, you can go to Costco and buy a great roasted chicken for $10, or buy Three Twins ice cream at their shop (or for a few lucky people, in the grocery store) and you know the product will be fantastic. I think this “why bother” attitude is what is pervasively destroying people’s will to learn to cook or do anything by hand. The sense of pride and accomplishment knowing you have successfully roasted a chicken or made your own ice cream *is totally* worth the effort. And, that effort really isn’t all that much work either. It is simple to scald some cream and take five minutes to make a custard base. It took no work at all to plug in the machine and let it do its thing for thirty minutes. How hard is it to rub a chicken with herbs and butter and toss it in the oven for an hour or so? Michael Ruhlman wrote a great post about this a few months ago. Why do so many people think this is hard? I think it is more of an issue of laziness and lack of confidence. Because I had a mom who cooked meals at home, who was not afraid to try new things, and a sister who leveraged this and took her cooking experiments above and beyond this gave me the confidence in the kitchen. My sister used to make eclairs with pastry cream filling after school, how many teens do that now?
It made me a bit sad but this feeling passed as I sucked the last of the ice cream off my spoon then surreptitiously licked the bowl clean. Like people who feel the need to summit mountains or ride a 300 mile bike race, I am my own iron man in the kitchen. I will make my own food and have fun in the process. The best part is that I get to enjoy and savor the outcome, like my first batch of chocolate ice cream.