In the heat of the moment, or scorching rays of the sun, as it may be, it’s easy to get carried away. Serial shoppers and gadgeteers alike can relate, getting swept up by the temptation of shiny new toys and tools guaranteed to make life easier, cleaner, brighter, tastier, smarter, or generally yet indefinably better. While ice cream makers are seen as a superfluous luxury good for most casual kitchen creatives, rapidly advancing technology has brought the average entry-level machine down to pocket change territory. Even for an impulse buy, you could do much greater budgetary damage with just a few fancy umbrella drinks on the beach.
As a self-professed ice cream obsessive, it should come as no surprise that I’ll always advocate churning your own frozen treats above all else. Sadly, I’ve come across scores of misinformed folks that think it’s an arduous process, not worth the time or effort, having never been fortunate enough to taste the fruits of that labor themselves. Lacking the proper equipment should no longer be a valid excuse for diving in, or at least dipping a toe in, to the refreshing world of iced sweet treats.
Believe it or not, any ice cream base can be made without a machine, right here and now, with a wide range of alternative methods at your disposal. Start with a solid recipe and clear out your freezer; your summer is about to get a whole lot cooler.
1. The Granita Method: A traditional Italian method of making fruit-based ices much like instant snow cones, this method creates dessert with larger, crunchy ice crystals. That same idea can be used with an ice cream base, and naturally yield smoother, creamier results. Simply prepare your ice cream recipe of choice as directed, and chill thoroughly. Pour out the cold mixture into a baking dish. The exact size is not important, provided it can fit comfortably in your freezer on a flat surface. Don’t chance it and try to balance the pan on top of numerous unequally sized items; trust me, it’s a pain to clean melted and re-frozen liquids from inside a freezer! Simply bear in mind that the larger the pan, the greater surface space the base will have, and the faster it will freeze.
Place your baking dish filled with liquid ice cream base in the freezer, and let it sit for 30 – 45 minutes. At this point, it should begin to freeze around the edges. Take a fork and scrape up those ice crystals into the center. Place it back in the freezer, and repeat this process every 30 minutes or so until the entire contents of the pan has frozen; approximately 2 – 3 hours, depending on the temperature of the freezer and size of the pan. When ready, spoon into glasses and serve immediately, or it will ultimately freeze solidly into once piece.
2. The Cube-and-Crush Method: Easier than the granite method but similar in concept, this approach is much less hands-on, so you can occupy yourself with other projects while the actual freezing takes place. Additionally, this procedure yields ice cream that’s more like a soft serve texture. Pour prepared and thoroughly chilled ice cream base into one or two ice cube trays, and set them on a flat surface in your freezer. Smaller cubes are better, as they’ll freeze faster and put less of a strain on your blender. Allow at least 6 – 8 hours for the ice cream cubes to freeze solidly, but you can prepare them up to this stage a day or two in advance. When the need for ice cream strikes, pop out at least one tray of cubes at a time, and plunk them into your blender or food processor. Begin by pulsing to break them up, and then puree just long enough to get the ice cream smooth and creamy. Be careful not to overdo it, or the entire mixture will melt. Serve immediately.
3. Popsicle Method: This should be a foreign concept to precisely no one, but an idea worth revisiting. All it takes is chilled ice cream base poured into pop molds and frozen until solid. To get a stick to stand up straight, be sure to insert it about 30 – 45 minutes after first placing the molds in the freezer, so that the mixture has had time to thicken up a bit. If you don’t already own molds, seek those that are BPA-free, or rig your own by lining up paper cups on a baking sheet. Lollipop sticks or wooden popsicle sticks can be found in most craft or kitchen supply stores.
4. Coffee Can/Baggie Method: Although arguably the most involved of all four approaches, this procedure can be a fun activity for a crowd, and especially with young children. It makes the smallest amount of ice cream at a time as well, so you must start with a maximum of only 2 cups (1 cup) of prepared, chilled ice cream base. In addition to the edibles, you will need a cleaned and rinsed coffee can that once held 3 pounds of coffee (gallon baggie), and a second that once held 1 pound of coffee (1-pint baggie). Additionally, you should have at least 1 ½ cups (6 tablespoons) of rock salt, 10 cups of ice cubes, and strong duct tape on hand.
Pour the chilled base into the smaller can, and tape it up tightly. Place it in the larger can, and surround it with salt and ice, layering the two a few scoops at a time. Seal the larger can with duct tape as well, and start rolling! Roll the can on its side, shake it up, or toss it around continuously; anything to keep it moving. The ice cream should be rather soft, but ready to eat in about 20 – 30 minutes.
Even if you can’t spare the cash or counter space for a full-featured ice cream machine, that shouldn’t stop you from chilling out with a double or triple scoop treat this season. Skip the churn, but give it a whirl!