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Ice cream 101 |

Ice cream 101

Ice cream is one of those desserts that most people purchase, whether at a grocery store or an ice cream parlor. And while there’s something sweet about grabbing an ice cream cone while you’re out on the town, it’s just as fun to make ice cream at home.

Though the recipes are simple, there is an art to achieving that perfectly creamy, mouthwatering consistency and flavor, and five local ice cream shop owners and chefs shared their wisdom with the Voice about how to reproduce it at home.


To start, you’ll need an ice cream maker. Cindy Somasunderam is the owner of https://mv-voice.com/news/2013/11/07/no-ice-for-this-ice-cream Scoop Microcreamery in Palo Alto, and she started making ice cream at home more than 30 years ago. She recommended KitchenAid’s ice cream attachment ($100) because it’s relatively affordable, compact and many people already own a KitchenAid mixer.

Elizabeth Prado, resident chef at the culinary program at Sur La Table in Palo Alto, recommended the Breville Smart Scoop ice cream maker ($400), a pricier option for the serious home cook. The machine also allows you to speed up the process with a “prechill” option that makes ice cream within 45 minutes.

For Laura Sunseri, operations manager at Tin Pot Creamery in Palo Alto, her “must-have” tool is the humble scoop. She recommends the Zeroll ice cream scoop ($18.50), which has a gel inside of it that transfers the heat of your hand, making it easier for the ice cream to come out of the scoop.

“You get a better scoop, and it protects your hand from getting cold,” she said.

It’s always wise to take a look at the the recipe you’re using to make sure you have the correct tools, but experts generally recommended stocking up on: a thermometer, digital scale, heavy saucepan, two to three bowls for ice baths and freezing, a blender or mixer, whisk, wooden spoon, spatula and an airtight container.

Ice cream, as well as some flavors of gelato, is made from a simple custard base of milk, cream, egg yolks and sugar. Prado referred to this as the “mother sauce” or creme anglaise, which is the base for other desserts, like crème brûlée.

So, if gelato and ice cream have the same ingredients, what sets them apart? Christianne Mares of Gelataio in Palo Alto said that gelato is made with “way more milk than cream,” resulting in a lower fat content than ice cream.

“We churn less air into the product. That means you have a denser product (and) it’s heavier. We serve it at a higher temperature, which gives it an intense flavor,” she said, adding that the colder something is, the less flavor it is perceived to have.

When making ice cream, there are two styles, Prado said: Philadelphia and custard. Custard style uses eggs, while the uncooked Philadelphia style does not. Custard-style ice cream is richer as a result of the egg yolks, Prado said.

Whether you’re making ice cream or gelato, start by heating the dairy ingredients. According to Prado, heating the milk and cream changes its protein structure and yields better results. You’ll then blend the egg yolks (if you’re using them) with the sugar and “temper” the egg mixture with the milk and cream.

Prado claims that tempering is the most challenging part of the process. It simply means slowly introducing the hot cream into the blended egg yolk mixture to avoid curdling the eggs.

Once the eggs are tempered, Alfonso Marquez Ramirez, the pastry chef at Chez TJ in Mountain View, recommended bringing the whole mixture up to 170 or 175 degrees at maximum to avoid getting to the point of making “scrambled eggs.” (Watch a video of Ramirez making ice cream in Chez TJ’s kitchen here).

At this point in the process, you can add your desired flavoring, such as vanilla extract or mint leaves.

After the ice cream base reaches 170 degrees, let it cool in an ice bath, using two bowls, one larger than the other. Fill the larger bowl with ice and sit the smaller bowl with the warm ice cream mix inside. Prado recommends straining the batter to catch any cooked egg pieces..

It’s also important to wait for the batter to completely chill, Ramirez said.

“If you put it into the ice cream machine when it’s warm, (the machine) will over-whip to bring it down,” he said. “You’ll have really fluffy ice cream with too much air, and when you go to freeze it, you’ll end up with chalky ice cream.”

If you want to add mix-ins like chocolate chips or pieces of cookies, Prado recommended adding them once the ice cream firms up or else they’ll sink to the bottom.

Ironically, one of the main culprits in failed ice cream, gelato and sorbet is iciness. Across the board, every ice cream expert had advice for how to avoid turning your dessert into what Mares described as “an icy blob of nothingness.”

To avoid the icy crystals that can sometimes wreak havoc on ice cream, gelato and sorbet, Somasunderam advised against rushing the process.

“There’s always the temptation to under-freeze, because you know it takes a long time. If it isn’t completely frozen, it’ll get icy,” she said.

Sunseri said to avoid letting the ice cream get too “melty” before putting it in the freezer.

“Melty ice cream is kind of one of the biggest enemies. If it gets too melty, when we freeze it, it gets icy,” she said.

How does one avoid this? Move really quickly, Sunseri said, adding that water is not great for ice cream, either. If you rinse a utensil, make sure to dry it off and keep it dry once you start working with ice cream.

Unsurprisingly, a resounding theme among all of the ice cream pros was to use fresh ingredients, starting with the milk and cream. Mares recommended using raw milk if possible, which yields a richer, more intense flavor. Somasunderam suggested using a fresh, organic cream, like from Strauss Family Creamery, which is what she uses at Scoop.

Ramirez said not to skimp on the fat content — get full-fat everything.

When creating flavors, use seasonal ingredients, Sunseri said, like the organic strawberries Tin Pot gets from Hollister for strawberry ice cream.

You can take it to the next level by making other ingredients from scratch. Somasunderam makes her own vanilla extract by taking a few Madagascar vanilla beans, slitting them and soaking them in bourbon or vodka for about a month.

Another tip? If at first you don’t succeed, give the ice cream maker another spin. Approach making ice cream with an experimental and creative attitude, as these professionals still do.

Sunseri recalled testing 10 different versions of an experimental sweet barbeque-swirl ice cream last summer. Ramirez stressed the merits of trial and error.

“I’ve messed up everything in this kitchen 10 times, 15 times, but now I’ve messed up so many things that I’m like, ‘OK. I know exactly what went wrong,'” he said.

Forget what you were told as a kid, and go ahead and play with your food.

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