Thursday, February 1, 2024

Ice Cream Tips, Tricks and Equipment

Many ice cream recipes call for some unusual items, but there are substitutions you can make based on what you have on hand. Here is a rundown and a few suggestions:

Sweet Syrups

In addition to sugar, many recipes call for a sweet syrup (which helps the ice cream stay softer/smoother after it’s fully frozen) but there are some 1:1 substitutions you can make. I listed them in order of my favorite to least favorite, and for the more unusual ingredients, I provided ordering links.

  • Tapioca Syrup - this is my favorite. I have to order it as I’ve never seen it in a store.
  • Glucose (used in candy-making and cake decorating) I hate this stuff. It’s stringy and very messy, but it works great. I transferred mine out of the tub it came in, and into a squeeze bottle, and that helped.
  • Invert Sugar Syrup - (also known as "golden syrup") If you have access to purchase it, great, but you can make your own according to the recipe below. As with HFCS (see below), the ice cream will be sweeter. 
  • Sugar - this will result in a sweeter and - after it's fully frozen - less soft ice cream. I use almost exclusively turbinado sugar because I like the flavor, but this is just a personal preference. 
  • Light corn syrup - I ranked this last because high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is commonly added to it, and I try to avoid the stuff.  However, it works very well regardless of HFCS content. If you can find it without added HFCS, great. If you do use the kind with HFCS, the finished ice cream will be sweeter. 

Inverted Sugar Syrup Recipe (5 cups)

4 c sugar (1000g)
2 c water (500g)
Acid (choose 1):
  • 1 tsp (5g) of citric acid or malic acid or cream of tartar; OR 
  • 1 tbsp (10g) of lemon juice

Place all ingredients into a pot over high-ish heat and stir to help sugar dissolve, and continue stirring until it comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low (simmer). Cook until it reaches 245F, remove from heat, let cool, and transfer to a sealed container. It will keep at room temp for 6-ish months.

You can also google for “inverted sugar syrup recipes” to learn more about it.

Texture Agents

These thickeners help the ice cream stay silky smooth by grabbing free water molecules, preventing ice crystals from forming in the ice cream when it freezes solid in your freezer. 
  • Tapioca Starch - Also called "tapioca flour". I put the tapioca starch in a bowl, scoop out milk from the pan where I'm heating it in the early custard-making steps. You add a starch-milk slurry at the very end (you don’t have to cook it after adding). It’s easily available - Bob’s Red Mill makes it, though there are many good ones. Technically you're supposed to use 1:4 starch to milk by weight, but I never measure, and just use enough milk to make a slurry.
  • Cornstarch - As with the Tapioca starch, I make a milk-starch slurry at the start of the process. Technically you’re supposed to 1:2 cornstarch to milk by weight,  You add the slurry toward the end, and cook for a minute or so after adding.
  • Xanthan Gum - I admit I've never used this one, so ranking it last may be unfair. I just got some to try (a new recipe book calls for it), so perhaps I'll revise this later.  You cook it with the milk and sugar, so it seems easy enough. You use much less of this texture agent (around 1/4 tsp, depending on the recipe), and it's supposed to result in the least icy ice cream.

Tedious but effective egg tempering:

Many custards call for egg yolks, and you can't just dump them into your hot milk - otherwise you'll wind up with bits of scrambled egg yolks in your ice cream, which is unpleasant.  There's a trick to tempering the eggs, and I've finally figured it out:

  1. Place egg yolks in big glass measuring cup and whisk until smooth.
  2. Scoop 1/8 - 1/4 c (30-60 ml) of hot dairy/sugar mixture and holding it well above (like 6-12” (15-30 cm) the measuring cup, SLOWLY pour it into the egg yolks, whisking the yolks constantly with the whisk in your other hand. This long drop allows the dairy to cool before it touches the eggs.
  3. Pause whisking and get another scoop of the hot dairy.
  4. Repeat #2 and #3 for as long as you can stand, until about 1/2 (or even more!) of the dairy is integrated into the yolks. You are looking to fill the measuring cup to AT LEAST 1.5 cups or 350 ml, but 2 cups/500 ml is better.
  5. Pick up where you left off in the recipe.

Chilling the custard:

Many ice cream chefs advise you to pour the hot custard into a ziplock and submerge it in a bowl of ice water for 30 mins before transferring to the fridge to chill fully. Then the next day, cut off one corner of the bag and squeeze the custard into the churn. 

I never do this as I try to avoid single-use plastics when reasonable to do so.

I found a mini milk can (holds about 1/2 gallon or 2 liters - see link below) and I set that in a sink full of cold water for 30 - 60 minutes. You could use a steel bowl, or a BIG glass measuring cup (nice for pouring into the ice cream maker), or even use the pan you cooked it in if you are careful to keep water out of it. If it’s metal, there will be good heat transfer. If glass, it’ll take longer.

Preferred Equipment

  • Stainless Steel Mini Milk Can - I use this to chill the hot custard. I transfer the custard from the saucepan to the milk can, then set the can in a sink full of cold water. Because it's metal, it has excellent heat transfer. After an hour or so, I move the can to the fridge where I let it chill overnight. Because it's got a nice wide mouth, it's easy to clean, and easy to get a rubber spatula in to scrape out every last drop of custardy goodness. It also pours well.
  • Sumo Ice Cream Scoop - This solid-stainless steel scoop is HEAVY-DUTY and dishwasher-safe. I soak it in hot water for a few minutes before scooping if the ice cream is particularly hard.
  • Kitchen Aid Ice Cream Maker Attachment - I have an older model, and I store the bowl in the freezer so it's always ready. It's the only non-commercial ice cream maker that allows the cook to vary the speed of the churn. But, there are LOTS and LOTS of wonderful ice cream makers out there. Buy the one that suits you, regardless of type.
  • Miscellaneous - heavy-bottomed steel saucepan, silicon spatulas, whisks, etc.
  • Tovolo Ice Cream Tubs - Large and Small. These aren't strictly necessary, but they are fun.

1 comment:

  1. What an excellent post! Thank you for taking the time to list and explain all these ingredients. Very helpful. I have a small Cuisinart that is perfect for just the two of us. We have fresh goat milk and cream, which make wonderful ice cream.


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