The Scoop on Making Your Own Ice Cream (and the Magic Shell to Top It)

By the editors of Cook's Illustrated

We all scream for… well, you know where this is going.

Going to an ice cream stand on a hot day is one of the summer’s greatest pleasures, but there’s nothing quite like making your own batch of everyone’s favorite frozen treat from scratch. Unfortunately, many homemade versions never seem quite as creamy as those you get in stores and oftentimes sport grainy textures. Fortunately, we found a way to make sure your ice cream is every bit as smooth—and even better tasting—than any scoop you can buy.

One key component to our ice cream's silky texture was replacing some of the sugar with corn syrup. This sweetener has a twofold effect: First, it is made up of glucose molecules and large tangled chains of starch that interrupt the flow of water molecules in a custard base. Since the water molecules can't move freely, they are less likely to combine and form large crystals as the ice cream freezes. Second, corn syrup creates a higher freezing point in ice cream than granulated sugar does, which makes the ice cream less susceptible to the temperature shifts that are inevitable in a home freezer. These shifts cause constant thawing and refreezing, which creates crystallization even in the smoothest ice cream. Our ice cream stayed smooth for nearly a week—far longer than most homemade ice creams do. We also found that freezing the custard as quickly as possible ensured the formation of small (versus large) ice crystals that are critical to smooth ice cream.

STEPS TO MAKING YOUR OWN ICE CREAM

1. REFRIGERATE MOST OF THE CUSTARD: Transfer all but 1 cup of cooled custard to large bowl and chill in refrigerator for at least 4 hours, until it registers 40 degrees.

2. FREEZE 1 CUP CUSTARD: Place the remaining 1 cup of custard in a small bowl and freeze for the same amount of time.

3. COMBINE CUSTARDS: Scrape the frozen custard into the chilled custard and stir until it’s fully dissolved; the deeply chilled base should register around 30 degrees.

4. CHURN SUPER-CHILLED BASE: Strain the custard and churn (the best ice cream maker we've tested is the Whynter SNÖ) until the ice cream has a soft-serve texture and registers about 21 degrees, 15 to 25 minutes.

5. FAST FREEZE: Transfer the ice cream to a chilled metal baking pan, where it will freeze faster than in the tall container you store it in, and freeze until it’s firm around edges, about 1 hour.

6. FULLY FREEZE: Transfer the ice cream to an airtight container, press out the air pockets, and freeze until it’s firm, at least 2 hours.

MAKE YOUR OWN MAGIC SHELL TOPPING

Now that you know how to make your own ice cream, you clearly need a magic shell: A chocolate sauce that instantly hardens into a shell when poured over a cool scoop. We found a way to engineer a far better tasting product than the variety you can buy in stores.

THE SECRET: Our magic ingredient is coconut oil, which is extremely high in saturated fat, making it solid at room temperature and brittle at cooler temperatures. Combining melted coconut oil in a 2:3 ratio with melted chocolate produced a satiny mixture that solidified into a perfect, shatteringly thin shell over ice cream.

THE RECIPE: Microwave 4 tablespoons of refined coconut oil, 3 ounces of chopped bittersweet chocolate, and a pinch of salt at 50 percent power until smooth (two to four minutes), stirring occasionally. Cool to room temperature and spoon or pour over ice cream.

RECIPE FOR MEMBERS: Vanilla Ice Cream

Make your own summer treat with our recipe for unbelievably creamy and smooth vanilla ice cream.

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