Cold Home Creamery
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Although I’m a big believer in the “make it yourself” ethos — not just because I think homemade food tastes better, but because it’s more fun — I had until recently avoided applying this doctrine to one of my favorite foods: ice cream.
Everyone I knew who owned an ice-cream maker told me the same thing, namely that the machine was gathering dust in a cupboard. And they cited the same problem: The machine’s mixing bowl had to be pre-chilled in the freezer before it could be used. As my friends explained, this not only takes an annoying amount of time but is also a major logistical hassle for people with a lot of food in their freezers. And believe me, I have a lot of food in my freezer.
Recently, though, I’ve become aware of two new kinds of ice-cream makers — one fairly high-tech, one exceedingly low-tech — that do away with the pre-freezing step. And after trying them, I’m happy to report that my “make it yourself” philosophy has now been extended to the realm of frozen dairy treats.
The first kind of machine comes with its own built-in compressor freezer, so there’s no need for rock salt or ice — or to pre-chill the mixing bowl. Several brands are available, but I’ve had excellent results with the Lello Il Gelato (the 1-quart version of which is currently on special at chefscatalog.com for $160). It’s easy to use right out of the box — if you have cream, sugar, and vanilla extract in the house, you can be enjoying homemade vanilla ice cream less than an hour after getting the machine.
But of course the fun of making your own ice cream is that you can go way beyond vanilla. The Il Gelato’s instruction booklet includes lots of appealing recipes, and so do cookbooks like “The Ultimate Ice Cream Book,” by Bruce Weinstein, which I recently used a recipe from to make a wonderful oatmeal ice cream with mixed-in crunchy granola. It may sound like health food, but trust me, it’s spectacularly rich and satisfying. (See accompanying recipe.)
If you’re not ready to spring for an electronic appliance but are still curious about making your own ice cream, there’s a much simpler option: the Play & Freeze. It’s essentially a plastic sphere with two chambers — one for your ice-cream mix, one for ice and salt — and you “churn” it by shaking it or tossing it back and forth. No plug, no crank, no frills. It’s available in 1-pint and 1-quart sizes, both of which are very inexpensive ($29.50 and $39.50, respectively, from llbean.com).
I decided to test the 1-pint Play & Freeze by using it to make my favorite flavor of ice cream: coffee. The unit comes with several recipes, including one for coffee ice cream, so I used that to prepare my mix, which I poured into the main vessel. Then, as with so many conventional ice-cream makers, I put ice and rock salt in the outer chamber. The salt lowers the freezing point of the ice, which causes it to melt, creating a super-cold brine that chills the ice-cream mix as it agitates.
The reason for agitating the mix, instead of just freezing it, is to introduce air into the ice cream.Without this step, you’d get a rock-hard doorstop instead of a creamy treat. Most icecream makers, whether hand-cranked or electric, employ a paddle (some electric mixers also have special attachments for this), but the Play & Freeze is much simpler. After a friend and I loaded everything into the unit and sealed the lid, we took it into my living room and just flipped it back and forth for 20 minutes while watching television.
A few minutes later we were enjoying some of the best coffee ice cream I’d ever had. And we even convinced ourselves that we’d worked off some of the calories in advance by playing with the sphere. Play & Freeze turns out to be a remarkably apt product name.
If you don’t want to make you own ice cream but want to branch out beyond the flavors available at the supermarket, there’s another option: Ecreamery.com, a mail-order Web site that allows you to design your own ice cream.
The Ecreamery process is simple. You choose a base mix of either 8%, 12%, or 14% butterfat, then choose one or two basic flavorings, and finally choose up to two add-ins or flavor ripples. It isn’t cheap — prices start at $50 for two pints, plus shipping — but it’s a lot of fun. The Web site also allows you to name your flavors, and the names are then printed on the containers, which looks very, you know, official.
What makes Ecreamery special is the range of ingredient options. There are more than 100 flavoring choices, including unusual offerings like jackfruit, pumpkin pie, and ube (a sweet purple yam from the Philippines, which happens to be where Ecreamery’s owners hail from). The mixins are similarly varied, with choices like black sesame seeds and lychee slices.
I decided to design one sweet ice cream (mocha and hazelnut ice cream with chocolate fudge swirl and chocolate-covered malted milk balls), one fruity (banana and cinnamon ice cream with a raspberry ribbon), and one exotic (avocado ice cream with sweet coconut strings and graham cracker pieces, which I didn’t expect to like).
And how did they taste? Quite good. Like, really good. Even the avocado, which definitely isn’t my idea of an ice cream flavor, tasted notably fresh, like chilled guacamole. I’d still rather make my own ice cream at home, but Ecreamery is a great option for those who want to explore ice cream’s wider possibilities.
R E C I P E
OATMEAL CRUNCH ICE CREAM
This preparation, adapted from Bruce Weinstein’s “Ultimate Ice Cream Book,” will work in any ice cream maker with a 1-quart capacity. It requires a bit of stovetop work and subsequent refrigeration to prepare the mix, but it’s worth it. If you don’t like crunchy bits in your ice cream, omit the granola.
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 cups milk
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup crunchy granola
1. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the sugar into the egg yolks until thickened and pale yellow. Set aside.
2. Bring the milk to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the oats, salt, and cinnamon. Reduce the heat and return the milk to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the oatmeal is thick and creamy.
3. Slowly beat the hot oatmeal into the egg/sugar mixture. Let cool slightly and stir in the cream. Cover and refrigerate until cold.
4. Stir the chilled mixture and then prepare in ice cream maker according to your machine’s directions. Add the granola halfway through the churning time, if desired.
Yields 1 quart.