Friday, January 31, 2014

Tools and Techniques of Making Ice Cream - Part Two

Part one of this series covered pretty much all you need to know about the ice cream maker itself. But before pulling the trigger on an expensive compressor based ice cream maker, let’s discuss some other needed utensils.

Silicone spatula

I can’t think of a more valuable utensil in the kitchen than this:

Heat-resistant silicone spatulas

They’re heat resistant up to 500°F, won’t harm nonstick surfaces, dishwasher safe, and cheap! No need to invest in expensive name-brand spatulas (like the ones pictured above). Walmart sells an off brand for about $2 each. I have about a dozen in my kitchen and use them for just about every kind of cooking and food preparation.

Why am I talking about heat resistant spatulas in an article about ice cream? The inside of the ice cream maker bowl has a thin non-stick surface that is extremely easy to scratch. The only utensil that’s safe enough to scoop out the ice cream without damaging the bowl is a soft silicone spatula. I cannot stress this enough.

Siren Don’t use anything other than a silicone spatula on the ice cream maker’s bowl! Siren

Measuring spoons

I’m kind of particular about measuring spoons. Ideally a set of spoons should have the following traits:
  • Include a ¼ teaspoon measuring spoon,
  • Include a ½ tablespoon measuring spoon,
  • Have both round (more accurate) and elongated jar friendly spoons,
  • Made of stainless steel (good for hot items), and
  • Easy to read and distinguish between each other.
This set made by Food Network are expensive, but hit all those points:

Measuring spoons

Measuring cups

Any kind of measuring cups can be used, but hear me out why Pyrex measuring cups are superior.

Pyrex measuring cups

Pyrex is famous for being incredibly resistant to thermal shock. In other words, these theoretically can go from the microwave to refrigerator without breaking. Yes, any kind of glass product can break from extreme temperature changes, Pyrex included. However, I’ve had years of great service from my set and recommend them wholeheartedly. They’re very easy to read, can take extreme hot and cold conditions, and most of all they take the place of a mixing bowl. My 4 quart Pyrex mixing cup is what I use as a container to make batches of ice cream mix. The handle and spout make it really convenient to use. Try pouring the contents from a standard round mixing bowl into a tiny ice cream maker bowl and you’ll see why those features are so important. Melting ingredients like chocolate in the microwave is perfectly safe in one of these, too.

If you want the real “good stuff,” then look for measuring cups made with borosilicate glass. That’s what Pyrex used to be made from a long time ago. I’d recommended trying eBay for old Pyrex cups rather than buying new ones made with the weaker soda-lime glass.

Hand whisk

For the love of everything not use an electric mixer or blender! Beating heavy cream is going to turn it into whipped cream faster than you think. A hand whisk is really all that’s needed.


UPDATE 2014-04-10: I modified my recipes to add the heavy cream at then end of the mix portion. Using an electric mixer at high speed at every step prior to adding the heavy cream is possible and preferable. My old electric hand mixer died and I replaced it with a top of the line KitchenAid 9 speed model. It has a VERY slow low speed setting. I do use it at the lowest speed after I add the heavy cream, but when in doubt, use a hand whisk.

Large Strainer

A large strainer might be necessary for some recipes like Butter Pecan. (After roasting the pecans in butter, the butter goes in the mix but the pecans are strained out and held to be added in at the end.)

Wire mesh stainer

Sifting cocoa or other powdered ingredients can be done with a strainer, too.

Ice cream containers

One of the biggest mistakes people make is not having an adequate container for the pre-frozen-solid churned ice cream. I love the containers from Sweet Bliss Containers. They used to have cool printed labels on them, but now they only come in plain white.

Sweet Bliss Quart Container

The minimum order is 25 pieces and are sold through Amazon.

Special ingredients

You can add just about anything to an ice cream mix, so I’m not going to produce an exhaustive list. I just want to mention a few special ones that aren’t usually found in most people’s kitchens. Not all ice cream recipes require these ingredients, but mine will for reasons I will explain shortly.

Pasteurized eggs

The risk of salmonella is very low with eggs purchased in most supermarkets. Many ice cream recipes that include eggs suggest the eggs and milk be heated into a custard. It’s not just a holdover from the days of unpasteurized milk. Heating the milk with other ingredients like vanilla bean can help infuse flavors. Nevertheless, I don’t use milk at all, and even if I did, I can’t be bothered to go through that process. A much quicker way is to buy pasteurized eggs. They may be difficult to find, but they’re well worth it. The only downside to these eggs is that the whites are impossible to whip up into a foam. That’s not important for ice cream, but a bummer for eggnog. If you want to use raw eggs and are trying to minimize the risk then just use the yolk. The yolk contains the lecithin, which acts as an emulsifier, and is less likely than the white to contain salmonella bacteria.

Eggs also provide a rich flavor to ice cream. I noticed that the recipes included with most ice cream makers omit them. You can leave them out, too, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Besides, any opportunity to include eggs into your diet should be taken.

Artificial sweeteners

The three I recommend are sucralose, erythritol, and stevia. I personally use EZ-Sweetz (liquid sucralose) and Truvia (erythritol and small amount of stevia).

Xanthan gum (and other stabilizers)

Stabilizers are an often under-appreciated ingredient. Xanthan gum, guar gum, and locust bean gum are some of the most common. Each one has a different effect on thickening, melting, and mouthfeel. Like artificial sweeteners, it’s best when more than one are used.

One package of xanthan gum will probably last a lifetime. Very little is needed for any recipe. A quart of ice cream should not exceed ¼ teaspoon of xanthan gum. Adding xanthan gum should be done with extreme care! A level measuring spoonful of it in one hand and a whisk in the other. Sprinkle a tiny bit while stirring until it’s thoroughly mixed. Keep doing this in incremental steps. Adding too much too fast (a very easy mistake to make) will result in it clumping.

Do not get unused xanthan gum wet. It absorbs moisture quickly. Keep it stored in a refrigerator until needed.

Vegetable glycerin

This is used to depress the freezing point of the ice cream. Glycerin makes the water in the ice cream more liquid and less ice. It should only be needed for recipes that are sugar free. I’ll cover freezing point depression and other aspects of ice cream science in a later post.

There are two suppliers of vegetable glycerin that I found on Amazon that seem to offer very pure and safe pint and quart size bottles. One is produced by Element 6 Innovations and the other is Essential Depot. Look for the USP designation on any product you buy.

CAUTION: Not every form of glycerin is fit for human consumption. For example, diethylene glycol is toxic and should not be consumed. Always verify the product is safe to use!

I did a write up on glycerin. Check it out if you want to learn more about it: The poor, misunderstood...glycerol molecule.


You should now have everything necessary to tackle any ice cream recipe you’d like to try. Part three will dig deep into the science of ice cream making. I’ll also get my sugar free Butter Pecan recipe posted, too.

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