Lickety-split, new ice-cream makers churn out homemade treats

Not so long ago, there were only two ways to treat your family to a scoop of homemade ice cream, and they both took some work.

Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette
Modern ice-cream makers, like the Camper's Dream Ice Cream Ball can be fun. Patty Rind of Ben Avon served, from left, Jack Rind, 12, Katie Carlson, 5, (back to camera) Emma Rind, 4, Caroline Carlson and Molly Rind, both 8, after the kids threw the ball around the yard to make their ice cream.
Click photo for larger image.

More about ice cream

Here's how ice-cream makers stack up

Hear the Post-Gazette's Gretchen McKay dispense some way-cool advice on homemade ice cream by clicking on the link: Homemade ice cream

One, you could load the kids in the car and head to the local ice cream shop. Or two, you could pull out the rock salt and hand-crank it yourself, a time-consuming activity that even when you took turns -- and boy, did you need to take turns! -- produced tired arms and sore shoulders.

It's still possible to buy an old-fashioned hand-crank ice cream machine, of course, and not just somebody's grandmother's used one on eBay.

White Mountain's manual model, for example, is crafted out of New England pine and makes up to six quarts of ice cream or frozen yogurt with its Norwegian beech paddles; it's especially popular with traditionalists. But, thankfully, that's no longer your only option.

Today's home cook has a variety of electric ice cream makers to choose from, in all shapes, sizes and prices. And thanks to advanced technology, they couldn't be easier to use; all you do is flip on a switch, pour your favorite recipe into the spout and watch as the machine works its culinary magic. There are even a few that allow your kids to make ice cream simply by playing, such as the Camper's Dream Ice Cream Ball by Industrial Revolution.

As with everything else in your kitchen, it all depends on what look you prefer, how much room you have on your counter and how deep into your pockets you want to dig.

What makes modern ice cream-making even more appealing is the fact that you probably won't have to make a special trip to the grocery store. (Remember -- no rock salt needed.) Frozen desserts are typically made with just a handful of everyday ingredients that most of us have in our fridges or pantries on any given day: milk, cream, sugar, eggs and some sort of flavoring, such as fruit or chocolate.

It does, however, take some planning. The canisters in which you'll be making the ice cream must be completely frozen before each use, which can take up to 24 hours. And if you choose a recipe that includes precooked ingredients such as eggs, melted chocolate or a simple syrup, it will have to be thoroughly cooled for 3 or 4 hours.

One of the most popular treats to make in an ice cream maker is -- no surprise here -- ice cream. But you can also use it to churn sorbet, a milk- and egg-free dessert made from iced fruit puree, and sherbet, a cross between ice cream and sorbet.

Gelato, an Italian frozen dessert that's denser and more intensely flavored than ice cream, is another delectable option and one that is growing in popularity.

The type of dessert you make will probably depend on individual preferences as well as what kind of fruit is in season. But also keep in mind that when it comes to choosing a recipe, the higher the butterfat, the richer (and some might argue, better tasting) the ice cream. Heavy cream, for instance, is a standard ingredient in premium chocolate and vanilla ice cream, and has 36 percent to 40 percent butterfat, while whipping cream has 30 percent to 36 percent and half and half has 10 percent to 18 percent. Whole milk, often used in gelato and "quick" ice cream recipes, has less than 4 percent butterfat.

Similarly, use the best-quality bittersweet chocolate you can afford (semi-sweet will make the ice cream taste too sweet) as well as real vanilla beans instead of vanilla extract.

For recipes that call for cocoa, Dutch-process cocoa, which is treated with an alkali to neutralize its acids, will provide a deeper taste and color.

Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
A triple dip of homemade strawberry, chocolate and vanilla ice cream.
Click photo for larger image.Pam Panchak, Post-Gazette
Katie Carlson, 5, of Ben Avon takes her turn shaking the Camper's Dream Ice Cream Ball while Caroline Carlson, 8, and Emma Rind, 4, wait their turn.
Click photo for larger image.

If you're watching your weight or cholesterol, it's possible to substitute lower-fat ingredients in most recipes. That might, however, change the dessert's consistency or flavor. And really, isn't it better to simply eat a little less, a little less often? This is ice cream, after all.

It's also important to know that ice cream churned in an electric machine will turn out much softer and creamier than your commercial varieties (think Dairy Queen rather than Bruster's).

As Ernie Pickney, a longtime ice cream maker with Turkey Hill Dairy in Lancaster County points out, residential freezers simply don't get cold enough to "flash freeze" desserts the way commercial ice cream makers can.

So if you plan on scooping it, you'll have to "ripen" the custard in your regular freezer for a few hours after it's been churned into ice cream. Just don't keep it in there too long: After about three days, ice crystals will start to form and the ice cream will get grainy.

Know, too, that most electric ice cream makers make only between 1 and 11/2 quarts of ice cream, so if you're churning it for company or have kids (or spouses) who simply won't be satisfied with one measly scoop, you might want to consider buying an extra container so you can make more than one batch at a time.

However many containers you use, get in the habit of immediately returning the canister to the freezer once you're done so it will be at-the-ready next time you want to make ice cream. How can you tell if it's completely frozen? If it sloshes when you wiggle it, it's not ready.

And make sure the freezer container is completely dry before you stick it back in the freezer or it will form ice on the inside -- that makes it more difficult for the paddle to turn when you make ice cream.

As for the mix itself, the colder it is going into the freezer container, the faster the machine will work.

It will also expand in volume during the freezing process, so be careful not to fill the container all the way to the top. And make sure the machine is running before you add the ice cream mixture, or it may start to freeze to the sides and damage the paddles.

Depending on how cold the mix is and the desired thickness, it will take anywhere from about 5 to 30 minutes for the dessert to churn into a soft custard.

If you plan on adding some extra treats, such as chocolate chips, fruit, nuts or cookies, wait until the last few minutes of churning and make sure the pieces are small. Otherwise, you could junk up the machine. Or consider mixing them in by hand.

When making cookies-and-cream ice cream, for example, Andy Hardie, owner of Dave & Andy's Homemade Ice Cream in Oakland, adds half the cookies at the end of churning to give it color, and the rest by hand to keep it super-crunchy. Likewise with his vanilla almond fudge. The fudge is always added by hand, after it's been scooped out of the container, to give the ice cream the appropriate "swirl."

Chances are you're going to want to eat the finished product right away. But on the off chance you want to wait,

Ice cream should be stored in a tightly covered container and placed in the part of the freezer that is most consistently cold (i.e., not the door).

You may also want to first cover it with a piece of parchment or plastic to prevent freezer burn. When you're ready to eat, you'll get a neater scoop if you first dip the scoop into cold water.

But perhaps the best bit of advice in learning how to make homemade ice cream, sorbet or gelato is this: Give yourself a break.

While today's electric models take most of the guesswork out of ice cream-making, it still takes some practice to churn a good-tasting, perfectly chilled dessert.

Those first couple of custards might not turn out exactly right. But once you've gotten the hang of it, you'll wonder how you ever managed to settle all those years for ice cream out of a cardboard carton.

It's that good.

Coffee Gelato (Gelato al Caffe)


Gelato is an Italian frozen dessert made from milk and sugar combined with other natural flavorings. Because it contains less air than American ice cream, it has a denser texture and is more intensely flavored. This coffee-flavored gelato is an all-time favorite. Substitute instant coffee if you can't find instant espresso powder.

  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1  1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder or 2 to 3 tablespoons instant coffee dissolved in   1/2 cup hot water

Whisk yolks and sugar in large bowl to blend. Bring milk to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Gradually whisk hot milk into egg mixture; then whisk in espresso mixture. Return mixture to saucepan. Stir over medium heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 8 minutes (do not boil). Refrigerate until cold, about 3 hours.

Process custard in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Freeze in covered container. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead. Keep frozen.)

Serves 6.

-- Bon Appetit

Easy Vanilla Ice Cream


  • 1  1/2 cups whole milk
  •   3/4 cup sugar
  • Dash salt
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  •   1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine milk, sugar and salt. Stir with a wire whisk until sugar is dissolved. Stir in half-and-half, whipping cream and vanilla. Transfer mixture to ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

-- Rival

Fresh Lemon Sorbet


While the French get credit for developing sorbet as a symbol of fine dining, legend has it that Nero, the great Roman emperor, invented sorbet during the first century, when he had runners bring snow down from the hills and flavored with fruit juice and wine. Today, sorbets are traditionally served between the starter course and main course in order to cleanse the palate. But they also make a great dessert.

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1  1/2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon zest

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer without stirring until sugar dissolves, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cool completely. This is called a simple syrup and may be made ahead in larger quantities to have on hand for making fresh lemon sorbet. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

When cool, add lemon juice and zest; stir to combine. Pour mixture into ice cream machine and churn until thickened, about 25 to 30 minutes. For best results, make sorbet mixture a few hours beforehand and refrigerate and fill the machine container only two-thirds full (this allows for more incorporation of air, giving a creamy texture).

When zesting a lemon or lime, use a vegetable peeler to remove the colored part of the citrus rind.

Makes 8 1/2-cup servings

-- Cuisinart

Fresh Fruit Sorbet


This sorbet recipe is easy to make and is extremely versatile -- simply use whatever fruit is in season.

  • 3 cups fruit (such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches or fresh pineapple)
  •   1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

Combine ingredients in a food processor or blender to puree the fruit. Pour mixture into ice cream machine and churn until the desired thickness.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

-- Deni

Strawberry Ice Cream


The secret to making the best strawberry ice cream is to start with the juiciest, ripest and most flavorful fruit. If strawberries are out of season, use high-quality frozen berries rather than out-of-season berries shipped in from long distances.

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 6 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup sugar
  •   1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Large pinch of kosher salt plus 1/8 teaspoon
  • 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
  • 1 cup milk

Put strawberries, 6 tablespoons sugar, lemon juice and pinch of salt in a medium heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until strawberries reach a jam-like consistency, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate for 1 hour until cold.

Put cream, milk, the remaining  1/4 cup sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a medium heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost simmering. Cool over an ice bath to room temperature. Refrigerate for 4 hours or up to overnight.

Stir in cooked strawberries. Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions. Freeze until scoopable, about 4 hours, depending on your freezer.

Serves 6.

-- "A Passion for Ice Cream," Emily Luchetti

Caramel Ice Cream


This ice cream is delicious plain or topped with chocolate sauce.

  • 7 large egg yolks
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  •   1/4 cup water
  • 2  1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
  • 2 cups milk

In a bowl, whisk together egg yolks and salt. In a heavy saucepan, stir together sugar and water and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar has dissolved. Increase heat to high and cook, without stirring, until sugar is medium amber in color. Remove pan from heat. Slowly stir in about  1/4 cup of cream until combined. Be careful, as cream will sputter as it is added. Slowly stir in remaining cream about  1/4 cup at a time. Stir in milk. Slowly pour the caramel cream into the eggs, whisking as you pour.

Return caramel cream mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant plastic or wooden spatula, until custard reaches 175 degrees and lightly coats the spatula.

Strain into a clean bowl and cool over an ice bath until room temperature. Refrigerate custard for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Freeze until scoopable, about 4 hours, depending on your freezer.

Serves 6.

-- "A Passion for Ice Cream"

Chocolate Ice Cream


In this recipe, both dark chocolate and intensely flavored cocoa powder are added to a custard base to create the signature brown color and rich flavor of this wildly popular ice cream.

  • 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 1  1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1  1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened regular or Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place chocolate on a cutting board and chop into large chunks using a serrated knife. Then, using a rocking motion, cut chocolate into small pieces that will melt quickly. Place in a small heat-proof bowl.

Put the milk, 1 cup of cream and the sugar in a medium saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolks and the remaining 1/2 cup cream until they are blended and a pale buttery yellow, about 1 minute. Sprinkle cocoa powder over yolk mixture and whisk until evenly colored and no lumps remain, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Place saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until bubbles form around the edges, liquid just begins to ripple in the center and sugar is dissolved, about 4 to 5 minutes. Do not allow mixture to come to a boil. Remove from heat.

Begin whisking egg yolk mixture with one hand while slowly pouring  1/4 of the hot milk mixture into yolks with the other. When blended, start pouring warmed yolk mixture back into the saucepan, whisking constantly until well blended. This is called tempering the eggs, and must be done to keep them from "scrambling" when the hot milk is added.

Place saucepan with milk-yolk mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, about 4 to 5 minutes. It should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Take care to reach all areas so it does not scorch or curdle. The custard should come to a bare simmer, with steam rising from the surface, but it should not actually bubble or come to a boil.

Remove saucepan from heat and add chopped chocolate. Stir gently until chocolate is melted and custard is smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in vanilla extract until blended. Pour hot mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl to remove any grainy solids and cool over an ice bath until room temperature. Cover custard with plastic and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to overnight.

Pour well-chilled custard into an ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Makes about 1 quart.

-- Adapted from "Williams-Sonoma Mastering: Frozen Desserts"

Homemade Ice Cream for a Crowd

  • 5 cups heavy cream
  • 5  1/2 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups evaporated skim milk or condensed skim milk
  • 4 egg yolks slightly beaten
  • 2  1/4 cups of granulated sugar
  • To make vanilla ice cream:
  • Add 1 to 1  1/4 tablespoons vanilla to taste
  • To make chocolate ice cream:
  • Add   1/2 to 1 cup cocoa
  • 1 cup sugar
  •   1/2 tablespoon vanilla

Mix sugar and egg yolks together in a heavy-bottomed pan. Slowly stir in the milk and the evaporated skim milk or condensed skim milk.

Cook, continuing to stir until thickened. Remove pan from heat and cool.

Add heavy cream and flavorings. Chill. Add mixture to metal canister and place in ice cream maker. Continue freezing until motor runs slowly or stops, approximately 30 to 40 minutes.

Add-in options: If you plan to add cherries, nuts or other goodies, add 2/3 way through freezing process.

Makes 1 gallon.

-- Turkey Hill Dairy, Lancaster County

Lake Fong, Post-Gazette
Lemon sorbet with mint garnish
Click photo for larger image.

Gretchen McKay can be reached at or 412-761-4670.


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