It starts out pretty basic. Some form of dairy, some form of sugar and, sometimes, eggs. These things are cooked or whisked, chilled, then frozen to near solidity while being slowly churned. Ice cream is born.
Whether it’s plain vanilla, classic chocolate, summery strawberry or more exotic flavors like green tea or lemon-basil, homemade ice cream has a special place in American hearts and at America’s summer celebrations, like the granddaddy of them all, the Fourth of July.
Many of us can remember packing ice chunks and rock salt around a metal cylinder, then taking turns cranking the paddle until the ice cream set. Nowadays, electric motors have largely taken the place of those hand cranks, unless you are very nostalgic or a glutton for punishment.
The machine itself may still require the ice and salt, though, especially the larger models, or it may be a smaller cylinder that is stored in the freezer until you need it.
Recipes, too, have changed. The French custard, the older recipe that was usually the one being hand-cranked, remains popular, but other varieties, like mixes of cream and milk and even coconut milk and soy creamer, take homemade ice cream to new heights.
It seems daunting, making such a complex and downright scientific treat at home. You have to get exactly the right balance of cold, fat and sugar for a good, velvety-smooth ice cream. A degree too warm, a pinch too much sugar, you get mush. Too cold, you get rocks.
Be not afraid. Newer, simple recipes are practically fail-safe and removing the odious task of hand churning makes even a French custard manageable.
Churning your own also makes ice cream more personalized. Picky palates and sensitive diets can be accomodated with some easy changes, know-how and creativity.