This week, I tried out a little experiment: ice cream without an ice cream maker. This was kind of a doomed endeavor from the beginning (no whipping cream, only skim milk in the house), and I used cream cheese as a base, loosely following a Better Homes and Gardens recipe*. Needless to say, it tasted terrible–imagine cream cheese frosting frozen to the consistency of gelato. But the consistency! Dense and creamy! Now, that was something it had going for it 🙂
One of the differences between gelato and ice cream is that gelato has next to no air incorporated into it. That is part of why it is so dense and thick and delicious. Since most at-home machines don’t whip air into homemade ice cream, that explains why ice cream you might make at home is so much denser than commercial ice cream (which can have anywhere from 25% to 95% air–I don’t know if I belive the second figure, but supposedly cheap ice cream is mostly air since ice cream is sold by volume).
Anyway, I promised no ice cream machine–so where is my method? I made my ice cream mixture, put it in a shallow bottomed bowl and froze it, taking it out and whisking (really intensely) it every half an hour. Why? Because if you just let it sit, huge water crystals will form and your ice cream turn out not as a creamy dessert but as a milk block. This is why churning (or whisking, as the case may be) is so important.
It took about 3 hours to harden enough to eat, but by the next morning, it was almost as hard as commercial ice cream. That said, I only whisked it 5 or 6 times and then let it sit in the freezer to harden up. Next time I make it, I will adjust this slightly by using a casserole pan. Since the casserole pan is bigger, the ice cream will be spread thinner and will freeze faster. The faster ice cream freezes, the smaller the ice crystals.
For poor college students (or really anyone not interested in springing at least $40 on a one-trick kitchen wonder), this is a perfect technique: almost everyone has a whisk and a casserole pan (or a 9×13 pan). If you plan on keeping that ice cream from the store, I assume you have a freezer. And that is all you need.
This weekend I plan on getting my hands on some whipping cream (or whole milk for gelato) and letting the ice cream making commence! I’ll tell you how it goes next week!
*Nope! Not sharing my horrifying variation! But here are some ice cream and gelato flavors to try: vanilla or fiore di latte, dark chocolate, stracciatella (an Italian chocolate chip), and hazelnut (nocciola). I will be looking into using this vanilla recipe from Bon Appetit and this dark chocolate gelato.