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Recipe Mon Jan 05 2015

Experimenting with Ice Cream Bases

ice cream-410330_640.jpgI received a professional ice cream machine for Christmas this year, meaning I spent a week turning my apartment into an ice cream parlor. Making ice cream is like reverse-baking -- you create a "base" (or batter) that then freezes into a solid mass you enjoy on a hot summer's day -- or in Chicago, a bitterly cold winter's day. There are countless variations of ice cream bases -- from the basic concoction of eggs, cream and sugar to guar gum, corn syrup and gelatin. Without eggs (a.k.a. Philadelphia-style) or appropriate thickeners, ice creams tend to be firmer, crystallize easier, and have a chewier texture. Without sugar, ice cream is grainy and difficult to scoop. I tried multiple single-quart recipes for ice cream bases (without flavorings or add-ins), and here are my results:

The Classic
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
⅔ cup sugar
6 large egg yolks

This is the archetypal ice cream base, and for good reason. It's light, creamy, and every scoop leaves you wanting more. Every ice cream maker will follow a variation of this, occasionally using dairy, sugar, or egg substitutes to help thicken and sweeten. With the exception of Haagen Daz, most commercial brands use cheaper substitutes because it isn't cost-effective for the quantities of ice cream they produce. For instance, both Oberweis and Ben and Jerry's use guar gum and carraegeenan in place of eggs and mixes water and cream to produce heavy cream. Blue Bell ice cream uses high-fructose corn syrup, cellulose gums, and vegetable gums.

BeFunky_9161510931_1fd792647e_z.jpg.jpgThe New Year's Resolution (Vegan)
8 avocados
3/4 cup honey (or stevia replacement)
1 cup almond milk
Lime or lemon Zest
pinch of sea salt

This is a healthy base that doesn't necessarily taste bad, but it was clumpy, froze extremely poorly, and the earthy taste of the avocado lingered rather unpleasantly on the palate. Furthermore, the stevia added a slightly bitter afternote that made me weep for ice creams everywhere.

The East Asian (Lactose-Free)
1 can full fat coconut milk
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups non-dairy milk (i.e., almond milk, rice milk)
gelatin (1 tablespoon in 1/4 cup boiling water)

Nearly 90% of East Asians are inherently lactose intolerant, and nearly 90% of vegans make me want to stab my eyes. Heavy cream is replaced by coconut milk, and non-dairy milk replaces cow milk. Gelatin replaces the eggs. I actually enjoyed the richness of this base, but the coconut flavor is perpetually present and a bit tiresome after a few bites.

Jeni's Base (Egg-Free)
2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened (3 tablespoons)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup
Pinch of kosher salt

Everyone and their mother raves about Jeni's ice cream, but the use of cornstarch, cream cheese, and corn syrup seems like a cop out. Eggs add a distinctly savory note that this base's creamy texture couldn't replace. Granted, Jeni's has creative and extremely tasty flavors, but they're all fairly replicable in your own kitchen.

The Lovehandle
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half and half
3/4 cups sugar
6 large egg yolks
Pinch of Salt

Instead of whole milk, I used half and half to see how much fat I could infuse in my custard. Now this is the mother lode of ice cream, a velvety orb of sweet butter that tastes more like gelato. This base will not freeze and become difficult to scoop -- in fact, the custard barely needed whipping. I actually preferred this version because the sheer savoriness of the ice cream meant I actually stuck to one scoop.

The benefit of making your own ice cream is that you can adjust the texture, savoriness, and add-ins based on your personal preferences. Add more yolks or use higher fat dairy for intensely creamy bases, or add more sugar if you have a major sweet tooth. You can even replace eggs with rice for a chewy and dense gelato, or add alcohol to your base for a boozy treat. Once you taste the joys of fresh ice cream, you might never settle for anything less.

Recipe guidelines and information from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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