Ice cream and summer are synonymous. When the temperatures hover near the century mark, nothing beats cooling off with a big bowl of homemade ice cream. Even better, make a whole lot of it and invite the neighbors over for a mid-season celebration!
Ice cream is the perfect dessert option, whether you’re having a laid-back block party or a gourmet dinner for a handful of friends.
Plus, it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t like ice cream. Even lactose-sensitive guests are usually happy to partake of the good stuff, especially when made with lower-lactose ingredients, such as goat’s milk.
The simplicity of ice cream is its real magic. At its most basic, the combination of cream, sugar and vanilla creates a delectable, refreshing dessert. Top it with fresh berries or homemade chocolate syrup, and it’s hard to beat.
Ice cream can be an elegant dish if you want it to be. If you’re looking for a richer, more stylish sweet treat, opt for a custard-based ice cream that brings an added level of lusciousness.
It requires a few more steps and slightly more attention, but it’s a memorable result. My only warning is once you start making your own, you’ll be ruined. It’s very hard to go back to store-bought varieties.
The face and flavor of ice cream changes depending on the season.
Living in Montana, we wait all year for fresh strawberries because the ones found in the store severely lack flavor. They’re just not worth eating most of the time. The only thing that tops the taste of freshly harvested strawberries is combining them with homemade ice cream.
When using strawberries for ice cream, I slice 2 cups and chop an additional 2 cups before mixing them in a bowl with 1/2 cup of sugar and a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice. (A mixture of sliced and chopped strawberries gives the ice cream a varied consistency.)
Set this in the refrigerator for a few hours to release the juices. Then add all 4 cups to ice cream (usually vanilla) when it’s halfway finished in the maker.
The choice of berries changes every few weeks during the summer. My aunt in Ohio grows the most fabulous blueberries that ripen in July and are a flavorful addition to homemade ice cream.
Instead of blueberries, we compete with Montana’s grizzly bears to harvest the blueberry’s wild cousin, the mountain huckleberry. Huckleberries are tarter than blueberries, making them an ideal addition to a sweet dessert. When adding blueberries or huckleberries to ice cream, you can dump them in whole or blitz them in a food processor for a few seconds before incorporating them into the mix, creating a purple delight!
Raspberries, including the wild black raspberries found in many areas of the country, also make a memorable flavor. I personally don’t mind the seeds, but a lot of people prefer not to pick them out of their teeth for an hour.
Add 1⁄2 cup sugar to 3 cups raspberries. Mash them to release the juices.
Then process them in a blender or food processor for a few seconds before straining through a sieve to separate the seeds. This way you have a fabulous purée with plenty of flavor. Mix it into the ice cream batter before pouring it into the maker.
Honey and Herbs
As summer progresses, we usually have a lovely batch of honey to utilize in recipes, and ice cream is a natural choice. The final sweetness and flavor depend on your variety of honey. For example, a light alfalfa versus a dark, rich tupelo. Experiment to find your preference.
Because many of the herbs in my garden are also at their peak, adding herbs to the honeyed base brings a hint of summer to the table.
One of the more unusual combinations is lavender-honey ice cream. Many people don’t consider eating the fragrant herb, but lavender offers a surprisingly sweet note, particularly when paired with honey.
The trick when using fresh herbs is to steep them in a heated milk and egg batter. I place the herbs in the mix when it reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow the herbs to infuse the batter with their flavors for roughly half an hour before removing them and adding the cream and vanilla.
Strain the mix to remove leftover bits of leaf or flower before pouring it into your ice cream maker.
The Dark Side
In my world, chocolate is always in season, though I’ve learned there are definitely different degrees of heaven when it comes to homemade ice cream.
I used to simply mix 1⁄3 cup cocoa powder into my standard vanilla mixture, but I’ve seen the light. In reality, I’ve seen the dark … chocolate. Instead of using cocoa powder, I melt 4 ounces of 60-percent cacao bittersweet chocolate before incorporating it into the mix. It’s so much richer.
And when the evenings become a tad chilly at the end of summer, it’s nice to make varieties with coffee and Baileys Irish Cream for an absolutely decadent dessert. Adding 1⁄2 teaspoon of instant coffee or a couple tablespoons of Irish Cream gives ice cream a brand-new twist.
These rich and sumptuous ingredients melt on the tongue and warm your heart—even on a cool night.
We live in a neighborhood where residents know the names of one another’s dogs and kids. A walk around the loop takes longer than it should simply because you stop and talk at a few houses.
Typically, once the sun dips down, people come out in their yards and gardens to enjoy the cool evenings.
When we first moved here, we hosted a small ice cream party with a family we’d recently met. It wasn’t fancy. We made a basic vanilla, but had several toppings and sides, such as brownies, that kept everyone coming back for more.
In between ice cream samples, the kids had a volleyball game going and the older ones played cards on the porch late into the evening. It’s what you picture as the perfect summer evening.
Organizing an ice cream party is simple. Let your neighbors know via word of mouth, Facebook or by dropping an invitation on their doorstep.
Depending on how well acquainted you and your neighbors are, you can ask them to bring their favorite topping while you take care of the rest. It can be fun to see what others add to the mix.
Most people can’t eat the same amount of homemade ice cream as the store-bought varieties because of homemade’s richness. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to stop. Estimate at least 1 cup per person. Reduce it if you include brownies, cookies or fruit.
Because ice cream takes time to set up to a firm consistency that many people enjoy, make the bulk of your ice cream in advance—especially varieties that take more time and care.
Maintain the entertainment aspect of ice cream making with a batch or two churning (or being tossed back and forth in an ice cream ball) while the crowd is there. Many people are amazed at homemade ice cream and are delighted to be part of the process.
It’s Your Churn
Even though the concept is pretty much the same (you’re freezing a mix of cream and sugar), there are many techniques and devices to reach the end product. Each method has pros and cons, but there is something to fit nearly any budget or preference.
When I first researched homemade ice cream more than two decades ago, I thought the old-fashioned crank-type maker would work well. And, theoretically, I could burn a few calories as I made dessert.
Thankfully, a close friend intimated that I might not want to hand-churn the ice cream for a dinner party or similar event.
The hand-cranked units are great if you have a group of kids who love taking turns at the wheel. The other nice aspect is the units don’t require electricity. You can take them to a picnic or family cabin.
Hand-cranked makers come in several different models, including the older styles that require salt and ice. But modern versions have a frozen canister, which eliminates the extra ingredients.
Overall, one of the nicest reasons to have a hand-cranked maker is there is no motor to wear out, meaning it will most likely last for decades.
A step up from the hand-cranked model is the bucket-style electric maker that requires salt and ice and makes up to 6 quarts of ice cream. When you’re feeding a large family—or if you like to have block parties — this is the best way to go.
I prefer the types with the freezable canisters because we rarely have enough ice on hand for the electric bucket model.
It takes 24 hours to thoroughly freeze the gel inside the canister prior to using it. I keep mine in the freezer all the time so it’s ready to go when the mood strikes.
When I’m ready to make ice cream, I pour my ice cream batter or ingredients in the frozen canister, insert the paddle and let it mix for 30 minutes. Because I prefer a harder ice cream, I place the finished product in a separate container and freeze it for several hours before serving.
My only complaint is the freezable canisters usually make only 1- to 1 1⁄2-quart batches. This doesn’t last long in our household. If I have friends over for dinner, I often have to make a couple of batches.
When using the freezable canister, also take care not to place it in hot water after you make the ice cream. This could warp the bottom and ruin the canister. Allow it to warm to room temperature before washing in warm, soapy water.
For those who don’t want to freeze their canister or who want to make multiple batches back to back, there are self-cooling units that do everything for you. It usually takes 40 to 50 minutes to make a 2-quart batch of ice cream, but at least you don’t have to wait until the next day to make the next one.
The greatest drawback to these machines is the price. Many cost around $200, while some demand well over $500. Plus, they’re heavy, typically weighing 40 pounds.
This machine is for the serious ice cream aficionado with plenty of counter space.
Have a Ball
Ice cream balls are a fun way to make ice cream. These makers are durable, plastic balls designed to be tossed and kicked creating a simple dessert in the process.
While you won’t feed a large group, it’s great for camping or throwing around in the backyard.
You simply fill the main container with ice and 1⁄2 cup rock salt, then flip it over and add your ingredients to the ice cream container. Screw on the lid, and toss it.
After about 10 minutes, add more ice and salt, and scrape the ice cream down the sides of container. It produces a yummy, soft ice cream in less than a half an hour.
Along the same lines as the ice cream ball, making ice cream in a bag is an excellent project for children, where each can mix a serving of their own. You’ll need a quart-sized zip-closure bag for the ice cream ingredients and a gallon (or two if you wish to double-bag it) zip-closure bag to hold the ice.
Fill the gallon bag half full with ice and add 1⁄2 cup rock salt (kosher or canning salt works just as well).
Add your ice cream ingredients to the quart-sized bag, seal tightly and place it inside the larger one. Make sure the large one is zipped tightly and start mixing. It takes approximately 5 minutes for the ice cream to freeze to the soft-serve stage.
Each of the kids can make their own, add whatever goodies catch their fancy and enjoy it straight from the bag—no mess and great fun!
Making ice cream at home is an easy way to create a fabulous dessert for any occasion, building years of great memories with family and friends along the way.
This is the primary recipe I use for most of my ice cream, whether I’m adding fresh berries or hunks of cookies.
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 cup sugar (if you’re using honey, use 1⁄2 to 3⁄4 cup)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
Whisk together milk, egg yolks and sugar. Heat on a medium burner, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat and pour through a strainer to remove any bits of cooked egg. Allow to cool for half an hour before adding cream and vanilla. Place in a sealed bowl and chill for several hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator before pouring into the ice cream maker of your choice.
Makes 1 quart.
I might as well buy stock in Ghirardelli, because I use a lot of their 60-percent cacao bittersweet chocolate.
- 4 ounces 60-percent cacao bittersweet chocolate
- 1⁄4 cup cocoa powder
- 1⁄4 cup boiling water
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 2 cups whole milk
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
Melt bittersweet chocolate in double boiler. Once it’s completely melted, pour into heavy-bottomed 1-quart sauce pan, then stir in cocoa powder, 1⁄2 cup sugar and boiling water. Whisk until there are
Mix together milk, remaining sugar and egg yolks. Stir over medium heat until mixture reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat and pour through strainer to remove bits of cooked egg. Pour chocolate into hot mix and stir. Allow to cool for a few minutes before adding cream, vanilla and salt. Chill for several hours or overnight before pouring into ice cream machine.
Makes 1 quart.
This article appeared in Hobby Farm‘s Best of Hobby Farms Home 2019, a specialty publication produced by the editors and writers of Hobby Farms magazine. You can purchase this volume, Hobby Farms back issues as well as special editions such asBest of Hobby Farms and Living off the Grid by following this link.