The heat is on, as in blistering 90+ °F (32 °C) days, each bead of sweat resonating loud and clear that summer has arrived. We adore our quaint 90 year old house, the only drawback being that my favorite space, the kitchen, is not air-conditioned. During the weeks when the kitchen’s average temperature hovers in the 80’s at night, only to push into the high 90’s during the day, use of the oven transforms this beloved space into a blazing inferno, making it even more unbearable. Going without sweets is not an option in my household, so ice cream, frozen and unbaked desserts reign supreme during the summer months.
A family favorite, this custard base ice cream is deliriously rich from an abundance of egg yolks and has a smooth, creamy texture that is flavored with freshly scraped vanilla bean seeds. Topping it off is a chocolate magic shell coating, stirring up memories of soft serve cones dipped in a chocolate coating, that magically hardens upon contact.
Having a good ice cream base recipe in your repertoire is essential and will provide a foundation for a treasure trove of unlimited flavors, textures and colors of frozen delights. There are basically two types of ice cream bases – a custard/ French base, made with eggs, butterfat (cream) and sugar or an eggless American/ Philly base, made with butterfat and sugar. We prefer the custard base, as the egg yolks are a natural stabilizer and emulsifier that give the ice cream a superlative texture. The eggless base is best for those times when you need the ice cream asap, as it does not need to be refrigerated overnight before the final step of making it into ice cream.
Early on, I was somewhat intimidated by custard or any recipe that had to do with tempering eggs, thinking that it really wasn’t possible to add a hot mixture to raw eggs without cooking them. My skepticism was long forgotten once I had a few custards under my belt and had mastered the alchemy of tempering eggs. That’s the beauty of science, especially in the kitchen, where the seemingly impossible happens now and again, those true moments of baking wizardry. As long as you honor the rules of science and follow each step precisely, making this custard ice cream becomes easy and a breeze to make, with tremendous rewards when fused with a little creativity.
While the creams, vanilla and half of the sugar are heating, beat the yolks and the other half of the sugar until light and creamy. Keep an eye on the cream mixture, stirring occasionally, so it doesn’t boil over. If you have a helper, this next step is the time to put them to work. Otherwise, you can place the bowl on a nested towel or a silicone hot pad to keep it from moving on the counter. While whisking the yolk mixture vigorously, begin drizzling about half of the hot cream mixture into the yolks in a slow, steady stream. The secret is to add the hot mixture slowly and to continue whisking vigorously to keep the yolks from cooking. Return the remaining cream mixture to the stove top over low heat. Slowly stream the tempered egg mixture into the cream while whisking vigorously. Continue stirring, until the mixture reaches 160-185 °F (70-85 °C). Do not allow the mixture to rise above 185 °F (85 °C) or it will begin to scramble. Filter the mixture into a heat proof bowl that is placed in an ice bath to keep from heating any further. And voilà, you have custard. After refrigerating in an airtight container overnight, whisk in the xanthan gum and the custard base is ready for churning.
Although the compression ice cream maker I use today is a far cry from the old hand cranked ice cream maker we used in my childhood, the magic and marvel is still there when tasting those first spoonfuls right out of the machine. The epiphany that ice cream just might be one of life’s most amazing ‘hand made’ foods is as true now as it was all those years ago.
The real magic happens while eating it – the chocolate shell breaks open, revealing the luscious vanilla bean ice cream center. What makes this combo extra special is the creamy ‘melt in your mouth’ sensation of both the layer of velvety chocolate and the ice cream, releasing flavor upon flavor as they melt. Enjoy!