How to Make Homemade Ice Cream Like a Pro

Tips for making ice cream at home — even without an ice cream maker

Do you ever long wistfully for that delicious ice cream you had once on vacation? Instead of devising ways to revisit it or just longing for it from afar, check out Scoop, a new book full of homemade ice cream recipes adapted from the best shops around the country.

As author and home ice cream master Ellen Brown explains, “There are just so many foods now that people enjoy from these little producers and they don’t really have a chance to taste them, just read about them.” So what did Ellen do? She scoured the country for the best ice cream stores and tested and retested the recipes to recreate them for the home cook. 

Ice cream might be the most representative dessert of summer: cooling down on hot, summer days with a cone of mint chip ice cream or finishing the night off with banana split sundae or soft serve twist dipped in chocolate sprinkles. Instead of buying pints from your local store for summer parties or desserts, try your hand at making it at home (it's easier than you think, especially with Ellen's wise words and advice) — plus it's a lot of fun. 

Whether you're looking for a refreshing treat like this Basil Lime Sorbet or the decadent Grasshopper Pie Ice Cream you tried in San Francisco last summer, you'll be able to make that and other mouthwatering flavors from stores that you may not be able to travel to. 

Check out her basic tips for making creamy, airy ice cream at home and how to avoid common pitfalls.


1. Aeration

Love the soft, creamy texture of ice cream? Aeration is responsible for that and is “the key to good ice cream,” according to Brown. (She says that there is a chapter in the book that goes into greater detail of the chemical process.)  


2. Chilling

“You’ve got to make sure that your mixture is really well chilled before you start to churn it. Don’t think ‘it’s coolish’ because that won’t do it.” She says that not chilling the mixture well enough is a common mistake for home ice cream makers.


3. Custards

Don’t be afraid of making French-style (or egg-enriched) ice cream says Brown. She thinks that most people are afraid they will scramble the eggs so they stop working on the custard before it’s truly thickened. How to know when it reaches the right point? “When it’s the right time, as you’re stirring it, you should be able to see where your spoon is going.” She also writes in the book that when it thickens and begins to look like eggnog that the temperature will usually be around 170-175 degrees (using a thermometer is recommended). Also make sure to remove the pan from the burner as you stir otherwise the heat will continue to cook it.


4. Watch Your Milk

“Be careful when you are heating dairy products,” says Brown. “You really need to watch it and keep stirring or it will boil over.”


5. Straining Fruit Seeds

Don’t waste time straining seeds. Brown says it’s not really necessary and “sort of the misnomer that goes back to classic French cooking when people had a zillion people to do everything in the kitchen.”


6. The Real Difference in Ice Cream Makers

According to Brown, the real difference is “whether you have to freeze the insert or if it has a compressor.” She says that the good ones for which you freeze the insert, you’re looking between 50 and 75 dollars. “As soon as you get to ones that have the built-in compressor, you go up to 200 or 300 dollars.” If you have a machine with an insert, then she suggests that if you have room in your freezer, have a dedicated spot where you keep it, but this is for people who are really into making ice cream.


7. What to Buy?

It depends on how much you want to invest or how often you’re going to make it. If you’re just making ice cream on an occasional basis, then there isn’t a need to get a more expensive machine says Brown. What does she use? “I didn’t use any kind of fancy ice cream maker.” But first she wanted to give a caveat, that she also doesn’t use any fancy kitchen appliances; she cooks on a basic household gas stove. Why? “Because I think that you have to be able to have recipes work in the home kitchen, in a real home kitchen.”

So for this book, Brown tested every recipe using a 1 ½ quart Cuisinart ice cream maker. She adds that she bought a second freezable insert for it so that she could make a few batches in rapid succession, but that a “home cook doesn’t really need that. All of the recipes in Scoop would work in a 1 ½ quart machine.” It’s a relatively affordable and useful tool. 


8. Basic Tools

While you only need a few, she recommends an instant-read thermometer (for the custards mentioned above), a candy thermometer, (especially for the sorbet recipes when you’re cooking the sugar syrup). A Microplane grater is useful because there are a lot of zests in ice cream and she thinks that “Microplanes do an absolutely fabulous job on things like fresh ginger.” Also on the list are good, heavy bottomed sauce pans and a few wire mesh strainers.  


9. Don’t Have an Ice Cream Maker?

Brown recommends getting one because she says it will never be the same, but “here’s what you can do: If you put your mixture in a low pan and put it in the freezer and then bring it out when it’s about a quarter  frozen, and whip it up, you’ll get some aeration.” Keep repeating at intervals until it’s frozen.


10. Last Tips

Have fun and play around with the seasons. The morning we spoke, Brown had just made a batch of strawberry ice cream with fresh strawberries from her local farmers’ market — and she suggests that you do the same. 


Click here to see the Basil Lime Sorbet recipe. 

Click here to see the Blueberry Ice Cream Pie recipes. 

Click here to see the Grasshopper Pie Ice Cream recipes. 

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