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How to Make Pro-Caliber Ice Cream

By Elizabeth Bomze and Dan Souza Published

Ice cream distills some of the most complex culinary science into cold, creamy magic, but it’s actually simple to make yourself. Here’s what you need to know to get churning.

When we think about ice cream, we usually think about flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, coffee, and strawberry. But what makes or breaks great ice cream is texture—how smooth, cold, and refreshing it feels in your mouth. Getting the texture exactly right hinges on two main factors: controlling the water in the base and freezing that base as quickly as possible. With the right formula (and a $30 ice cream machine), you can make ice cream as good as any scoop shop's.   

MIX UP JUST THE RIGHT BASE

Ice cream is mostly water, which freezes during the churning process and thickens the base so that it becomes solid and refreshing. The key is controlling the size of the ice crystals that form as the water freezes and that can continue to grow over time in the freezer. When ice cream is grainy, it’s because the crystals are noticeably large, while smooth, high-quality ice cream contains ice crystals so small that our tongues can’t detect them.

Each ingredient in the base influences the properties of the water and the size—and our perception—of the ice crystals. Classic formulations include just heavy cream, milk, and sugar (custard-style ice creams also include eggs). Our base also includes corn syrup, nonfat milk powder, and cornstarch—unusual additions that are essential to our ice cream’s smooth consistency. Here’s a breakdown of each ingredient’s role in our formula.

KEY INGREDIENTS

  • SWEETENERS

    Sugar sweetens the base, but it also ensures that the ice cream is soft enough to scoop straight out of the freezer by keeping a portion of the water in the mix from turning to ice. Adding just the right amount of sugar is crucial to achieving that properly dense but still scoopable consistency. 

    Corn Syrup is a less sweet form of sugar, so it provides the textural benefits of sugar without making the ice cream sweeter than we want.

  • FAT 

    Fat in the base means there’s less water to freeze, but too much fat can form flecks of butter during churning; it can also dull the ice cream’s cold, refreshing mouthfeel. Using a combination of heavy cream and whole milk gets us close to fourteen percent fat, which is considered the sweet spot. (In rich, custard-style ice cream, eggs also contribute fat; omitting them yields a cleaner-tasting base that allows other flavors to shine.) Fat also lubricates the tongue so that ice crystals aren’t as noticeable, and it solidifies when chilled, trapping air during churning.

  • STABILIZERS 

    These ingredients increase the viscosity of the base, so there’s less chance for ice crystals to cluster into larger, more perceptible crystals. 

    Nonfat dry milk powder not only replaces some of the liquid milk in the mix, effectively decreasing the amount of freezable water, but also traps some of the water so that it can’t freeze, minimizing ice crystals. Cornstarch also traps water so that it can’t freeze.

FREEZE IT FAST

There are three basic steps to freezing the base as quickly as possible, which ensures small (less than 50 microns), imperceptible ice crystals. 

Chill: To shorten the time it takes for the base to freeze, it’s important to chill it down to 40 degrees—when it’s cold but still fluid—before it goes into the ice cream maker. (Chill the ice cream maker’s canister for at least 24 hours before adding the base and churning so that it’s as cold as possible.)

Churn: Churning partially freezes the base and incorporates air into it through the whipping action of the paddle (also called a dasher blade). The process takes about 30 minutes; you’ll know it’s time to stop when the base is the texture of thick soft serve and registers 21 degrees.

Harden: After churning, about 50 percent of the water is frozen; the rest of the freezing and hardening happens when the base is packed into a container and left in the freezer for at least a couple of hours.

KEY EQUIPMENT

  • ICE CREAM MAKER

    With the help of a good ice cream base, the Cuisinart Frozen Yogurt, Ice Cream & Sorbet Maker ($53) produces frozen confections that are as smooth and creamy as commercial premium ice creams. 

  • ICE CREAM SCOOP

    When you've gone to the trouble of making a homemade ice cream, you need the best kind of scoop for portioning it out. The Zeroll Original Ice Cream Scoop's ($17) gently curved oval bowl forms perfect round orbs that release easily. 

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.