I must not have been the only person who was struck by this New York Times article on how to make your own ice cream using nothing more than the power of salt water (yes, you heard that right, salt water) and the technology of plastic bags. I was less impressed by the chemistry behind how the low freezing temperature of salt water can be used to freeze custard, and much more excited about the prospect of making my own ice cream, sans an expensive and space-stealing ice cream maker.
To me having your own ice cream maker is the height of appliance extravagance. You can justify a Kitchen Aid Mixer (No really, you can. I can make my own bread—and bread is the staff of life!). You can justify a Cuisinart (I can grind my own hamburger, instantly grate cheese, and chop herbs!). But ice cream? It’s not exactly a life-sustaining food.
Still, the thought of being able to whip up a batch anytime I want, perhaps to show off the flavors of seasonal produce or to fill a batch of profiteroles, is appealing. And, I’ll be honest—serving up a batch of my own homemade ice cream at my next dinner party appeals to my deep desire to show off.
But does it work?
Step one was to make my custard. I used this Epicurious recipe for Honey Lavender ice cream—since I, um, overbought for my birthday cake and had plenty of these ingredients sitting around. I will say that the ice cream had a bit of a strange flavor. I think next time I would use a little less lavender, as it reminds me too much of soap
I let the custard cool, and then poured it into a one gallon freezer bag.
While the custard was cooling, I made my salty sludge. I must say that I was at a disadvantage here, because I didn’t quite realize that I would need a lot of extra ice for this recipe. Of course, our refrigerator doesn’t have an ice maker; in fact, it can just barely keep the milk cold.
I ended up putting the ice cubes I had in a ceramic bowl and sticking them in the freezer while I froze up another batch of cubes. This would have been fine except the ice cubes froze to the bottom of the bowl in a solid mass. Not so good. I guess that’s why the recipe says to use a plastic bowl. I see, I see.
The salt-water ice bath ended up being more like a rock-hard layer of ice, and then a smattering of salty ice on top of the ice cream bag.
Still, even in these less-than-idea circumstances, the custard started to freeze and take on a soupy-ice-cream-like texture. As the recipe suggested, I took the bag out of the salt-water bath and massaged it a couple times after fifteen minute intervals. After a couple of these massaging session, I stuck the bag in the freezer. I realize now that the recipe said to stick the whole bowl into the freezer, which may have made my ice cream a bit creamier and a bit less rock-hard.
The end result is that I made ice cream that tasted okay, if a bit too heavy on the lavender. And, actually, I think if I left it out to soften before I scooped it it would be passable texture wise, since it was almost impossible to scoop straight from the bag. It definitely didn’t have the same creamy texture as ice cream made in an electric mixer, or even an old-fashioned churn.
Still, the possibilities are there—I think I just have to iron out the kinks in my process. Next time I think I will try to massage the bag more regularly to soften the texture, and let it soften before I scoop it.
But who knows—before long maybe I’ll be serving homemade ice cream at a dinner party.
No fancy ice cream maker required.