Making your own ice cream is an incredibly rewarding experience, not to mention eating it afterwards! However, there are many potential pitfalls that could stop you short in your tracks and helpful tips which can help to make your creations bloom. I’m going to cover 10 of the most important tips so you can streamline your home ice cream making process.
1) Follow your machine’s instructions
When all else fails, follow the instructions. Sounds obvious but many people only skim them and might miss important points that will affect their ice cream. Particularly important to look into;
- How full should you fill your machine (up to ¾ full is usually the maximum)
- Do you turn your machine on before pouring in your base? (yes)
- Setup procedure to make sure machine works properly (for example, lid should be locked on properly on some machines to make sure the blade is fixed in place and the ice cream churns)
2) Get a digital thermometer
I made the mistake of thinking that an analogue thermometer would do but quickly realized I needed a digital one. This is needed to measure the temperature when making your egg custard to make sure your eggs are safe for eating. Making your custard can be a tricky process so the fewer distractions you have (such as a slow reading analogue thermometer), the better.
Once you have the important piece of equipment you can focus on your egg custard. Make sure to warm it gradually from a cool pan to avoid overcooking. Continually stir and scrape the bottom with a plastic spatula to prevent egg from sticking there. When it’s ready, take it off the heat immediately.
3) Buy a proper ice cream scoop and container
There’s a few different sorts of scoops and containers and perhaps some debate over which are the best. I prefer to use a long, thin container and the drag-style scoop (not the ball style with a trigger) so you can drag it through your ice cream and create nice, neat scoops. A heavy scoop with a sharp edge will work well even with overly firm ice cream which is helpful because some variation in firmness is common with homemade ice cream. I have the Zyliss Scoop but the Tovolo Tilt comes highly rated as well.
Long, narrow and shallow containers allow the ice cream to freeze easily and maintain a consistent temperature while also being well shaped for the drag-style scoop. The Tovolo ice cream containers work really well for this.
4) Research the best recipe
There’s an enormous about of variation in ice cream types and recipes so you’ll likely have lots of different recipes to choose from for any given flavor. If you’re looking for a recipe online, it’s definitely a good idea to look at several different options and where they differ to figure out which would be the best one to use. The beauty of online recipe sites is they often also have reviews and comments on the recipes so you can already see where others have had troubles and adjust your approach accordingly.
Another option would be to follow recipes from a trusted recipe book such as The Perfect Scoop (I swear he must have made each recipe dozens of times to figure out the optimal formulation because each one is simply amazing).
5) Freeze your bowl properly
Problems with the freezer bowl/canister have been a big source of frustration and heartache for me in my ice cream making efforts. On several occasions I’ve gone to churn my ice cream only to find that the freezer bowl wasn’t frozen solid and the ice cream didn’t churn properly. Believe me, it’s very annoying. Here are the tips I’ve developed to minimize these problems;
- Fully defrost the bowl prior to freezing
- Freeze the bowl for a minimum of 48 hours before churning
- Store the bowl in the coldest part of the freezer. This is usually at the back and towards the bottom
- Store the bowl upright on a flat surface in the freezer
- When you get the bowl out prior to churning, shake it to make sure it’s frozen solid. If you can hear any liquid sloshing around inside then the churning probably isn’t going to work. If you find yourself in this situation, put your base back in the refrigerator, fully defrost your bowl and put it back in the freezer for 24 hours (48 is better) then try your churning again a few days later
Pro tip: If you want to completely avoid freezer bowl problems, you can purchase an ice cream machine with a compressor which doesn’t use a pre-frozen freezer bowl.
6) Pre-cool your base (and mix-ins) before churning
This is an important step which is often overlooked by newbies (yes, I’ve made this mistake before too!). Your mixture really does need to be super cold prior to churning for it to work properly. It even helps if the room you’re doing the churning is cool as well.
Many recipes suggest using an ice bath to cool the mixture down to churning temperature but I find that to be too much trouble and tend to prepare my base the night before I intend to churn it then leave it in the fridge overnight to chill.
If you’re going to be adding mix-ins to your churned ice cream (this is usually done in the last few minutes of churning or after you’ve removed it from the machine), make sure they’re also not too warm as they could start the melt your ice cream.
7) You can save it… sometimes
This tip may not be for everyone but personally I hate to waste. If I make a mistake in a recipe it’s tempting to throw it away and start again but in the interest of avoiding waste, I usually try and save it.
If you steeped your ingredients too long then you can try to add a bit more cream or milk to balance out the flavor.
If your custard base is a little overcooked you can run it through a fine mesh strainer to filter out the overcooked bits and rescue the rest.
Sometimes though, there’s no saving it and starting again is your best option. I always try to get extra cream to allow for possible mishaps.
8) Use quality ingredients (or not?)
When reading and following gourmet recipe books like The Perfect Scoop, it’s easy to get carried away with his enthusiasm for the highest quality ingredients. However, if you’re a regular ice cream maker like me, it starts to get a bit expensive to always go for the highest quality ingredients so I often go for something more generic.
It’s also important to remember that well known brands aren’t necessarily higher quality than generic label products. Brands spend millions on advertising to create the perception of higher quality but it’s often not the case.
The bottom line is that you should experiment with the higher quality ingredients vs the more generic products and see what you like. Don’t feel pressured to always buy the most expensive, premium brands as it’s often not going to be worth the extra cost, particularly if you’re on a budget.
9) Don’t be afraid to experiment
Experimentation is not only fun to do but can lead to some surprisingly yummy creations. Whether it’s trying that weird recipe that you found or trying to create your own recipe, I’d definitely encourage you to try new things.
If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to a tried and true gourmet recipe book to build your confidence back up.
10) Store properly and eat quickly
If you’re using an open container, cover your ice cream with a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper – making direct contact with the ice cream – to reduce the formation of ice crystals on the surface.
Keep in mind that your homemade ice cream won’t last as long as store bought, commercial ice cream as that has stabilizing agents and preservatives to give it a longer shelf life.
The best approach is to eat your ice cream quickly (within a week or two) and prepare for the next batch!
Keep these tips in mind as you get ready for your next batch. I’ve been through countless frustrating experiences when making ice cream at home and I wish I’d known these tips upfront – but oh well, live and learn. If you have any top tips to add, please let me know and don’t forget to spread these ideas around so we can encourage better ice cream making for all!