Homemade Ice Cream: tips for the perfect, creamy dessert

I’m sure this isn’t news to anyone who clicked on this blog, but…

It’s ice cream season!

Homemade ice cream is something that everyone should experience at least once in their life. Because you only have to make it once to know that it’s something worth making again and again.

It’s that time of year when it’s socially acceptable to enjoy ice cream as dinner on those particularly hot days. It’s the season when kids run around with sticky faces and hands after an indulgent afternoon treat; a lot of memories are made at the hands of this frozen, creamy delight.

You can easily make ice cream with just two basic ingredients – cream and sugar – but we’ve got some tips to show you how to make it the very best it can be.

For all of the tips below, we’re going the modern route and using an ice cream maker. While it’s true that ice cream can be made without a machine (by hand or in an old fashioned churn), we’re all about the ease of this modern convenience.

Cuisinart’s 1.5-quart ice cream maker is a fixture in our hectic test kitchen. Simply add the ingredients, push a button, walk away, and come back less than 30 minutes later to find wonderfully creamy, perfectly frozen ice cream.

Tips to make homemade ice cream via @kingarthurflou

1) A cooked custard base makes extra creamy homemade ice cream

Egg yolks add richness from the fat in the yolk, which gives the ice cream a smooth, velvety texture that cream alone just won’t produce. Ice cream can be made without egg yolks, but it will be a bit stiffer and certainly less smooth on your tongue – thereby lacking what most folks expect from their favorite dessert.

Egg yolks also act as an emulsifier: The proteins in the yolk bind with water and fat molecules in the milk, which results in a more stable and creamy end product. The process of cooking the milk and eggs together to a safe temperature will produce a rich custard base that will translate to a more luscious ice cream.

Be careful to temper your egg mixture before adding it to the hot milk base to avoid curdling. Tempering is the process of adding hot liquids to eggs without them cooking or curdling. The trick for that is to add a very small amount of the hot liquid to the eggs at a time, while continuously whisking or stirring. This allows the eggs to gradually warm up, so they will thicken into custard, instead of curdling into scrambled eggs. Making a custard base is a relatively simple step that makes a big difference in your homemade ice cream.

How to make homemade ice cream via @kingarthurflourYour custard base should be cooked to a safe temperature of 170° to 180°, and will be as thick as heavy cream.

If you don’t have a thermometer handy, a good way to know you’ve reached the right temperature is with the spoon test. Dip a spoon into your cooked milk. If the base leaves a coating that you can swipe clean with a finger, it’s good to go.

Tips to make homemade ice cream via @kingarthurflour

2) Add extra extract to ensure the flavor doesn’t dull

Your freezer is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it does its job too well and freezes the flavor right out of your food – or at least dulls it.

To ensure your ice cream tastes as good many days later as it did when it just came out of the machine, add a little extra insurance in the form of a touch more flavor. Adding a bit more extract or flavor to the machine while it’s churning, or even beforehand, seems like a pretty obvious thing… you know, now that you’ve read it.

If you’re adding extracts, plan to add up to 1 tablespoon more, depending on how much you like the flavor. We wanted our vanilla to POP, so we went all in. If you’re using an extra-strong flavor, use a bit more discretion. Since these flavors are so super concentrated, adding no more than 1/2 teaspoon extra to your ice cream will get you where you want to go.

Tips to make homemade ice cream via @kingarthurflour

We like to store our ice cream in this handy tub. The efficient shape saves freezer space, and the non-slip base makes for easy scooping. It also comes with a double-walled design, which prevents freezer burn.

3) Xanthan gum ensures the creamiest ice cream

Adding a thickener like xanthan gum can help make your ice cream creamier and help reduce the amount of ice crystals that form during the freezing process. Xanthan gum is often used as a thickening agent and a stabilizer to prevent separation, which is how it reduces the ice crystal formation in your freezing ice cream and keeps the texture smooth.

The fat and protein in the egg yolks will do much the same – so for those that can’t eat eggs, this is a must-add. For everyone else, xanthan gum is a tiny little insurance policy that goes a long way towards homemade ice cream perfection.

Tips to make homemade ice cream via @kingarthurflour

On the left is ice cream with added alcohol: the spoon digs into it easily. On the right, ice cream with no added alcohol: it’s rock hard.

4) Alcohol keeps ice cream scoopable, even right out of the freezer

Most homemade ice cream becomes rock hard when stored in the freezer longer than 6 hours or so. To keep ice cream hard but not rock hard, stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons liquor before placing in the freezer. Use vodka, brandy, or match a liqueur to your ice cream flavor: Kahlua and Frangelico are two of my favorites.

So how does this happen? Since alcohol doesn’t freeze, the alcohol in the liquor acts as a sort of anti-freeze, keeping your ice cream from turning rock hard. It’s still going to be hard-serve – but you’ll be able to scoop it much more easily.

Tips to make homemade ice cream via @kingarthurflour

5) Add-ins can be mixed in the machine or by hand

Looking to take your plain ice cream over the top? There’s nothing better than a mouthful of cookie  in the midst of all that frozen goodness. Whether it’s cookies, candies, pretzels, chopped fruit, or even potato chips, you can customize your homemade ice cream easily with the help of an add-in.

The easiest way to mix add-ins into your ice cream? Just pop them into the canister while the machine’s still running, at the end of the cycle when it’s reached the desirable soft-serve stage. Your goodies will be easily mixed in with the help of the machine’s paddle.

Tips to make homemade ice cream via @kingarthurflourFor more delicate add-ins, like fudge or caramel for a swirl, it’s better to scoop the ice cream into a bowl and gently fold the sauce in with a spoon or spatula.You have a better shot of controlling how blended your swirl becomes. Adding sauce directly to the machine will run the risk of it blending in completely.

Feeling totally inspired by all of these tips – but can’t eat dairy? You’re in luck – dairy-free ice cream is DELICIOUS, and so totally easy. Check out this fantastic post by my fellow blogger, Alyssa, for tips and tricks that ensure everyone enjoys a frosty treat this summer.

homemade ice cream via @kingarthurflour

Tell us, what’s your favorite ice cream flavor? What are your favorite add-ins to throw into your homemade ice cream? Share in the comments below!

Gwen Adams
About

Gwen Adams grew up in northern New Hampshire, on top of a mountain, surrounded by nature and not much else. After graduating from Lyndon State College in 2010, Gwen sought a career that combined her passion for writing with her love of baking. She found ...

comments

  1. Anna

    Serious eats has shown that tempering eggs is not necessary. You can cook the dairy and eggs together right off the bat. Only temper when needing to infuse the dairy.

    Reply
  2. Paul from Ohio

    Favorite? – Nice thick fudge packed vanilla. Years ago in Chicago there was a firm called Vala’s that produced a Hand-packed Vanilla Fudge……..oh oh oh, so good.

    Reply
  3. waikikirie

    How much Xanthan Gum do you recommend? I have a few ice cream recipes that require flour but would love a substitute so a Celiac family member can enjoy it as well.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We suggest using 1/4 tsp of xanthan gum, but it’s optional for a creamier texture. Bryanna@KAF

    1. Jared

      I Just checked the other link, sorry about that. Thanks for the post.

      I like marshmallows and smoked almonds.

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Jared, we recommend about 1/4 tsp of xanthan gum for a creamier texture. Bryanna@KAF

  4. Kay

    Mmm, there’s nothing like serving home made ice cream to your friends and family. It’s a super crowd pleaser and their appreciation makes the hard work of making the custard base worth it. You can also do the easier Philadelphia version and it is just as good.

    There are so many fun ice cream recipe books as well. I keep David Lebovitz’s “The Perfect Scoop” and the Big Gay Ice Cream books close at hand during summer!

    Reply
  5. Kenny

    Seriously, every other blog post has like a dozen recipe links… and yet not a single one in this post?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kenny, if you’re looking for the link to this recipe, it’s at the very top of the blog post, under the first photo. Bryanna@KAF

  6. Carolyn

    Any recipes for a no sugar ice cream? For example made w Stevia?
    I’ve had success w an instant ice cream in the past using frozen berries and whipping cream w sugar in a powerful blender. Haven’t tried it w Stevia yet, but it should work. Maybe something to test in kitchen w xanthan gum…How about instant clear jel? Would that help w texture to make it less icy perhaps?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Carolyn, unfortunately we currently don’t test recipes with sugar substitutes, so I can’t offer any advise on that. We do often add about 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum to our ice cream recipes for a smoother texture, but I wouldn’t recommend instant clearjel for this purpose. Barb@KAF

  7. Susan

    If I make cheesecake ice cream, would there be enough xanthan gum in the cream cheese (4 ounces) to do the job without adding any more? The recipe makes about 1 quart. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Susan, because it’s hard to say how much xanthan gum is in the cream cheese you’re using, I would still add the required amount for the recipe. Bryanna@KAF

  8. Sheryl

    Any tips on how best to remove the ice cream from the maker once it is finished churning? So much of it sticks to the side and bottom.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      A nylon spreader should be a great help! This spreader is stiff and sturdy. Another option is to allow to sit at room temperature until it melts a bit, then scrape! Elisabeth@KAF

  9. Maxine

    There’s no mention of the type of cream. I have to drive miles to find cream with no additives as the stuff sold in supermarkets has been ultra-pasteurised then added gums/thickeners to make it whippable. Drives me insane 😆

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      There is no need to drive for miles, Maxine! Pasteurized cream, ultra-pasteurized, whipping cream, light cream are all options. See? No more waiting, you can have your ice cream today! Elisabeth@KAF

  10. Christopher Thompson

    Is there anything you can substitute for the alcohol? Perhaps add a little more xanthan gum? How much?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Alcohol is really the way to go for scoopable consistency right out of the freezer! If no alcohol, allow to sit at room temp for 30 minutes before serving. MaryJane suggests trying 6-8 grams ofcake enhancer for a creamy texture. Enjoy! Elisabeth@KAF

    2. Samantha

      I have found that the alcohol base of extract can serve this purpose as long as you’re using enough, so even if I’m doing a vanilla bean ice cream with real beans I will add extract at well. Going this way I’ve never had an issue with scooping!

  11. John Chovan

    I love, love, love ice cream of just about any flavor, although I’m not all that crazy about mint. And because chocolate covered cherries are my weakness, any ice cream that emulates them is fine by me. But my all time go-to flavor, especially when my brain is short circuiting from all of the creative choices these days, is a great old-fashioned vanilla. I’ve sort of grown out of my chocaholism that emerged in college (when I fell in love with a chocoholic). And I do not eat ice cream that is any color not found naturally in food (bubble gum is not a food). But there is something cosmic about the flavor that is derived from an orchid. Or maybe it’s because when my sisters and I were kids, we would split a pint of Neapolitan ice cream by flavor: Laura the redhead got strawberry, Cheryl the youngest got chocolate, and I went for the vanilla. Some habits do last a lifetime. I think I need to raid the freezer now.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you for sharing, John! Keeping it simple is sometimes best. Less is more! Enjoy the summer time and may you eat ice cream whenever possible! Elisabeth@KAF

  12. John Fischer

    I have not been very successful in using xanthum gum. At what point in the process do you add it? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      John, we tend to beat it in with the egg yolk and sugar before we stir in the warm milk/cream. Hope this helps! Mollie@KAF

  13. Anne

    If you are looking for an interesting and wonderful ice cream try ginger . Use candied ginger chunks as an addition !

    Reply

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