I’ve been getting a certain amount of questions about homemade ice cream, which I’m going to answer here over the next several weeks. I’m going to start with the number one question folks have been asking: Why does homemade ice cream gets harder than commercial ice cream in their freezer? And what can be done to prevent it?
While I do address this in The Perfect Scoop (pages 5 and 16), I thought I’d list some strategies here as well. I don’t necessarily follow these all the time, but thought I’d put them out for readers to ponder and use as they see fit.
Alcohol doesn’t freeze, which you know if you’re anything like me and keep a bottle of vodka chilled and ready in your freezer. You can add up to 3 tablespoons of 40 proof liquor to 1 quart (1 liter) of your frozen dessert mixture prior to churning. I use vodka if I don’t want the taste of the liquor to intrude on the flavor, but will switch to another liquor such as Grand Marnier or Armagnac to enhance the original flavor if it’s compatible.
If my mixture is fruit-based, I prefer to add kirsch, a liquor which enhances the taste of stone fruits, like peaches, plums, nectarines, as well as berries. Generally-speaking, I’ll add enough so the taste isn’t very present, often less than a tablespoon.
For sorbets and sherbets, a glug of Champagne, white wine or rosé is nice with fruit flavors. 1/2 cup (125 ml) can be added per quart (liter) of mixture prior to churning. Or if the recipe calls for cooking the fruit with water, substitute some dry or sweet white wine for a portion of the water; the amount will depend on how much of the wine you want to taste. (Most of the alcohol will cook out but enough will remain to keep your sorbet softer.)
Like alcohol, sugar doesn’t freeze which is why you shouldn’t futz around with recipes and just reduce the sugar willy-nilly. Almost all frozen dessert recipes use white granulated sugar, however you can replace some or all of the sugar with another liquid sweetener, namely honey or light corn syrup.
Either one will give the ice cream a smoother, less-icy texture but the drawback is that honey has a taste that may not be compatible with your other flavors and corn syrup has its own detractors. Since I don’t eat many preprocessed foods or drink soda, where most of it lurks, I don’t worry adding some every now and then when called for.
In general, liquid sweeteners are sweeter than granulated sugar so you should use three-quarters for each part of granulated sugar. (ie, use 3/4 cup honey in place of 1 cup of sugar.) You can substitute all, or perhaps, just part for the sugar. Artificial sweeteners, like Splenda, I have no experience with so can’t advise. I suggest researching agave nectar, a natural sweetener, which is said to be suitable for diabetics. (You should check with your doctor if you have health concerns.)
You can soften gelatin in cold water, warm it to melt it, then add it to sorbet or sherbet mixtures prior to churning. 1 teaspoon of powdered gelatin is a general guideline per quart (liter) of mixture, although that can be doubled. Please note that this makes the recipe no longer suitable for vegans, vegetarians or folks who keep kosher.
Fat doesn’t freeze. If you don’t believe me, put a cup of olive oil or a blob of Crisco in the freezer and see what happens. (Butter will freeze since it’s roughly 18% water.) In many of my recipes, I don’t use boatloads of cream and instead replace it with whole milk with very satisfying results. Same with egg yolks. While it’s lots of fun to watch chefs dump tons of cream into whatever it is they’re making while the crowd cheers them on, it’s not necessarily how I (or most folks) actually cook at home these days.
So you can up the fat in your ice cream by substituting cream for milk or half-and-half in recipes. Even more effective, is that you can also add more egg yolks if making a custard-based ice cream, which will increase the creaminess due to their emulsifying properties. Most of my recipes used 5 or 6 yolks per quart (liter), but you can go up to 10 per quart (liter) if you’d like.
(Note: People also ask me about using non-fat or reduced-fat products. In my recipes, I indicate where low-fat products can be used without sacrificing the results. You could theoretically use non-fat products but your ice cream or frozen yogurt will be grainy and icy and most likely you won’t be thrilled with the results.)
Some pastry chefs use stabilizers and ant-crystallization agents in their ice creams and sorbets to keep them smooth. Many are pectins and alginates are derived from seaweed or glucose. (There’s a forum on eGullet where these are discussed in depth.) I don’t have any experience using them as I prefer my frozen desserts with less-additives and don’t write recipes using ingredients that many people don’t have access too.
Almost all home machines churn at a much lower speed than commercial machines, which are designed to whip lots of air (called ‘overrun’) into the ice cream, as much as legally possible in some cases. Consequently your homemade ice cream will not have as much fluffiness to it like the stuff you buy in the supermarket.
My Cuisinart ICE-50 turns off automatically when the ice cream is done and I find during the last few minutes of churning is when the ice cream reaches its maximum volume and airiness. You may want to churn your ice cream as long as possible to get the maximum amount of air into it as well whatever machine you’re using. You can find more information at my post – Ice Cream Makers: Buying an Ice Cream Machine.
Home freezers are designed to keep things like ice cubes and peas really, really cold. Not necessarily ice cream or sorbets. You can either turn your freezers temperature up, or store your ice cream in the door, which is a bit warmer than the shelves (which is why you shouldn’t store milk in the door of the refrigerator either.)
My personal recommendation is to follow recipes as indicated and if the ice cream or sorbet is too firm, take the frozen mixture out of the freezer 5 to 10 minutes (or longer) prior to scooping and serving. If you’re having a dinner party, mid-way through the meal, transfer the ice cream to the refrigerator and it should be fine by the time it’s ready to serve.
Use Invert Sugars Like Corn Syrup for Smoother, Less Icy Sorbet (Serious Sweets)