There’s no way around it: If you want to make ice cream at home, you need an ice cream maker. Without an ice cream maker, you can make adequate ice cream substitutes—among them slushy granitas and moderately creamy frozen whipped cream—but you cannot make ice cream. That’s because ice cream gets its smooth, rich texture from being churned in an ice-cold bowl, a process that forces air into it as it freezes. Yes, an ice cream maker is a space hog, and no, you can’t use it for very many other uses, but without one your only options are buying a pint of Häagen-Dazs (probably freezer-burned) or visiting your local artisanal ice cream boutique (probably overpriced).
You will notice that ice cream is not called “ice milk” or “ice half-and-half,” and there’s a reason for this: Ice cream ought to be made with cream. Specifically, heavy cream (sometimes called whipping cream), the kind with a high enough fat content that it will hold stiff peaks when beaten. Lower-fat dairy products will yield a disappointingly icy-textured frozen dessert with the dull flavor of malted milk. Since you’ve already gone to the trouble of acquiring an ice cream maker, you may as well abandon caloric restraint. Buying an ice cream maker and then using it to attempt low-calorie desserts makes about as much sense as downloading The Who’s “My Generation” and then turning down the bass.
Like pudding and crème brûlée, ice cream is an iteration of custard. Custard has a reputation for being difficult to make, but it really isn’t: You merely heat up your cream, whisk it gradually into your sweetened egg yolks (adding it too quickly will cook the yolks instead of blending them uniformly into the cream), and then cook the cream-egg mixture gently until it thickens. The thickening won’t be dramatic, but the custard will continue to set as it cools, and of course it will eventually become semisolid once frozen. (If you want to speed up the cooling process in between cooking your custard and freezing it, rest your custard-filled saucepan in a large bowl full of ice.) I like to fold some extra whipped cream into the cooled custard to give it a slightly lighter, silkier texture.
If you, like me, had freeze-dried corn powder left over after making polenta a few months ago, I cannot encourage you vehemently enough to put it in your ice cream. Heck, even if you didn’t make polenta a few months ago, I vehemently encourage you to buy freeze-dried corn powder for the express purpose of putting it in your ice cream. Corn ice cream is a sweet, slightly tangy, succulent marvel: the perfect summertime dessert (especially if you serve it topped with hot strawberry-rhubarb jam). However, if you are too lazy to procure freeze-dried corn powder or make it yourself in a food processor, you may leave it out of the below recipe for vanilla-brown-sugar ice cream, which, though nowhere near as exciting as corn ice cream, beats that freezer-burned store-bought pint by a long shot.
Corn and Brown Sugar Ice Cream
Yield: 1½ pints (4 to 6 servings)
Time: 1 to 2 hours, mostly unattended
3 cups heavy cream
½ cup brown sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons freeze-dried corn powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1. Put 2 cups of the cream in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until it begins to steam, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk the brown sugar, egg yolks, freeze-dried corn powder, and a pinch of salt until thick and pale, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually whisk the hot cream into the eggs and sugar, then return the mixture to the saucepan and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the vanilla extract and cool.
2. Meanwhile, whip the remaining 1 cup cream with the whisk attachment of a stand mixer (or a handheld electric mixer) until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the cooled custard. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and freeze for up to one month.