Jan 17, 2012

Robot ice cream

This is a very cold summer here in the sub-tropical rainforest of northern NSW, Australia. It feels like we are on a tipping point where the weather is increasingly more random and unpredictable, each year more so in the ten years we have lived here after our tree change from inner-city Sydney. It is a long sleeves chilly - and wet - summer with only a handful of warm days and none of our usual summer stinkers (over 35 degrees celsius, where we swim ten times a day and gorge on mangoes and salad and ice cream). 

But even with the heater on (yes, truly) we are still enjoying home made ice cream. Even with climate change, some things stay the same. Here is how we make ice cream around here...

Abundance of whole foods
We are still visiting the dairy for raw milk, our free range organic hens are laying well apart from the occasional wedge tail eagle still diving through the roof, and with some sugar from down the road (we live in a sugar cane area) all we need from afar is natural vanilla extract (my vanilla lilies are about a foot tall and not flowering yet). 

Just add fresh or frozen fruit and you will have all of the flavour, loads of good nutrition, and none of the nasties in most commercial ice creams (such as gluten or horrible additives like the ubiquitous 160b - read about this 'natural' colour called Annatto which causes more reactive problems than most artificial colours here).

My recipe is based on Stephanie Alexander's 'Egg Custard'. November received a Cuisipro Snap-fit Robot icy pole mold set for Christmas so we thought we'd take it for a run here...

We do eat a lot of ice cream, so have an ice cream churn with its own compressor (that means it is a churn with a freezer attached) but I have made ice cream successfully with a churn that sits in ice and salt, or even freezing the custard in a tray and bringing it out to mix by hand.

What is ice cream anyway?
Good restaurant quality ice cream is invariably made from a custard of egg yolks and milk and cream that is churned and frozen. The thickening of the protein that occurs when you heat the milk and eggs makes a lovely creamy confection without any of the gums, soy thickeners, wheat starches, or gelatinous chemicals in commercial ice creams. It is simple, it is good.

Custard can be tricky to master the first time. Read right the way through this recipe as I have added hints to help if it all cooks too quickly and starts to curdle : )

An amusing book to get you in the icy food mood is "The Empress of Ice Cream" by Anthony Capella which explores the development of iced flavours and the beginning of ice cream in the 1660s in Europe.

Home made gluten free ice cream recipe
This is an adaptable recipe where your ingredients determine the size of your mix. Got loads of eggs and milk and cream? Scale it up. Not much? Scale it down... 

1 free range egg yolk (save your whites and freeze in batches of 5 for incredibly good friands here)
100 mls of milk and cream (50 mls cream to 50 mls milk is really good, but 25 mls cream to 75 mls milk is still good too)
25 grams sugar

Vanilla extract (as good as you can afford) to taste, or 1 bean for 5 yolks

Conversions are here, but basically if you are from the US, think 3 egg yolks, 1.25 cups milk/cream, and 2.5 oz sugar. Wow, metric is sooooo much easier : )

Bring the milk/cream and vanilla to a slow simmer (just starts to wiggle like a heat shimmer - don't boil!) in a heavy-based saucepan. Take it off the heat.

Whisk your egg yolks and sugar by hand or in the mixer (whisk attachment) until light and foamy. Use a big enough bowl to incorporate the milk/cream mix afterwards.

Bring your yolks and sugar over to the stove top and ladle a little bit of warm milk/cream into the eggs' bowl, whisking immediately. Keep adding milk/cream til it's all mixed in.

Rinse the saucepan out in cool water - this will help to avoid overcooking as it cools the pan and removes any residue for the cooking custard to catch onto. Pour the uncooked custard back into the pan. Cook over a moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Watch as you stir and the foamy bubbles from the egg mix will start to break down.

Keep stirring! Look at the back of the spoon - the custard will thicken and coat the spoon where before hand it just ran off like milk. I notice that the sound/vibration of the stirring changes as the foam disappears. Watch out for any little chunks - you have gone too far and may split the custard (coagulated the protein)! This needs rapid cooling!

The trick with a stirred custard is the moderate heat and the constant stirring. Even taking it off the heat won't stop the cooking, so if in doubt (or inexperienced) keep your sink half full of cold water so you can sit the saucepan in there to cool the custard quickly. Keep stirring! I save a just split custard with this cold water bath and a rotary egg beater mixing rapidly...phew.

Once the custard is ready (think slightly thick not chemically thickened here) pour into a jug to place in the fridge for cooling. Once truly at fridge temperature, you can move on to churn the custard and - voila! - ice cream! 

Once churned, pour into chilled molds
We liked the robot molds as they clipped together for stability. Ours are not as pretty as the box photos as November wisely decided to add frozen blueberries and mango! It is summer after all...

Not using molds? Pour into a lidded freezable container and freeze til ready to eat!

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