If there's a better summertime epicurean feast than fresh, homemade ice cream, no kid could tell you what it is — unless it's MORE fresh, homemade ice cream!
The rhythmic smoosh-a-smoosh of the ice-cream paddle swirling through the rich, creamy mixture is music to the ears of kids of all ages. And turning the crank is the one of the few tasks in life that kids do voluntarily, happily even, in exchange for the paddle, still gooey and gloppy with the frosty mixture, when the job's complete.
My own ice-cream memories began with Leonard Trevithick's strawberry ice cream in my hometown of Burlingame, Calif. Reflecting on those Sunday afternoon barbecues, with Len lining up the labor — "OK you kids, who's next on the crank?" — still produces a smile. And man, was that strawberry ice cream awesome.
Homemade ice cream is one bit of decadence in which practically everybody can indulge with good conscience. Because you control the ingredients, you can be sure your ice cream is made with the freshest of fresh ingredients. You won't add the chemical emulsifiers, stabilizers and artificial flavors found in most commercial products.
But who really needs to rationalize a passion for homemade ice cream? All you need are a few guidelines, some tasty recipes and a lazy, summer afternoon to crank up the ice-cream freezer.
First the basics. Since the ice-cream maker was developed for home use in the early 1900s, ice-cream lovers haven't stopped fiddling with the formula, searching for the ultimate frozen dessert. But the main ingredients haven't changed — a magical blend of milk and cream, sugar, flavoring, air and sometimes eggs.
Eggs come into play if you start with a cooked custard base, which is my preference. For my taste, it produces the creamiest results. And yet Len's classic strawberry ice cream that I grew up on is much less complex, so you'll find a variety of recipes below.
Just as essential as the recipe is the equipment. For the hard-core purists, the old-fashioned, hand-crank models still are available. They're affordable and terrific if you've got a family to share the work. But let's face facts: Kids grow up, and when that happens, your cheap labor base for producing good, old-fashioned, hand-cranked ice cream diminishes. Enter the electric ice-cream machine. Pour in the custard, flip a switch and before you can holler "boy-howdie!" you've got ice cream. No tender biceps or inflamed rotator cuffs the next morning.
There are dozens of electric models. Prices, of course, vary, especially on the Internet (which is where the real bargains exist). But if you want to keep with a classic concept, consider the White Mountain ice-cream machine with electric motor. You're still using bags of ice and rock salt, which means this is still an outdoor activity. But there's a motor attached, and it does an excellent job of freezing.
If you don't want to mess around with ice and rock salt, you'll pay dearly for the convenience. The DeLonghi Ice Creamery (model 8500) is one such product. As countertop models go, this one's a beauty. I like to keep mine accessible all summer for impromptu ice-cream hits.
It's totally automatic, meaning, no ice and rock salt or liners that have to be stored in the freezer. Simply plug it in, let it chill for five minutes, then turn on the churning motor and pour in your custard or sorbet mixture into the removable, 1.5-quart bowl through a hole in the transparent lid. The double-paddle system does the rest. Twenty to 40 minutes later, you've got dessert. DeLonghi produces good-quality equipment, good to know as this modern piece of convenience comes with a hefty price tag, in the $300 range.
When it comes to making ice cream, don't fill the freezer container more than three-fourths full of ice-cream mixture to allow for expansion. Some of the new electric models don't want the bowl filled more than half full. Be sure to have a backup of twice as much ice as the bucket will hold to replace melting ice during the churning process.
At first, if you're cranking by hand, turn slowly until you begin to feel resistance. Then crank faster. Once turning the crank becomes a real burden, the mixture is reaching its proper consistency. This is the time to add fruit chunks, chocolate chips or any other ingredients you want to be evenly mixed throughout the ice cream.
The next step is an agonizing one: putting aside the ice cream to "ripen." If you can bear to do this, you'll end up with a much firmer product. To ripen the mixture, pour off the saltwater, then carefully wipe down the lid before lifting it off. Scrape the dasher with a rubber spatula and tamp down the ice cream. After putting a double layer of foil over the top of the container (for a tight seal), replace the lid. Pack a fresh supply of ice and rock salt around the container and wait an hour.
Some of these recipes take advantage of summer's wonderful fruits. If you decide to improvise a little, keep in mind that flavors are not as intense when chilled. Don't be too cautious; if you're waffling between two or three cups of fruit, for example, try three.
As for the lazy afternoons, we'll leave that part up to you.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.