Ice cream made just with hot milk, cream and flavorings (sometimes called Philadelphia-style) is not only foolproof and quick, but extremely delicious.
Here’s what most people say when you brag to them about your recipe for no-cook ice cream:
“Ice cream is cooked?”
This seems to indicate that most people have never made ice cream. And that’s a pity, because although there are many wonderful ice creams out there in the world, ice cream that you make at home is uniquely delicious, with more fresh dairy and bright flavor than even the priciest pint.
Most ice cream is cooked because most ice cream is made from custard: eggs, dairy and sugar, whisked together and heated until thick and creamy. This sounds simple enough, but as anyone who has tried it knows, custard is cooking’s obstacle course. At each step, one wrong move sends you back to the beginning, with a panful of scorched cream or sugary scrambled eggs to show for your efforts.
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That’s why it’s such a pleasure to discover that ice cream made just with hot milk, cream and flavorings (sometimes called Philadelphia-style) is not only foolproof and quick, but extremely delicious.
Until rich “premium” ice creams like Haagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s came on the American market, many of the most popular national brands, like Breyers, Edy’s and Bassetts, were (and are) made with milk and cream, or just milk.
And for multiple reasons, there’s a place for it in any home cook’s arsenal.
First, it is fluffy and light, letting flavors like vanilla, lemon or just fresh cream come through more clearly. “The beauty of Philly-style ice cream is that it pairs well with so many desserts,” said Eric Berley, who runs the Franklin Fountain, a retro-style ice cream parlor in Philadelphia, with his brother, Ryan.
Berley said that because this style contains more air and water, it is actually colder and lighter than other ice creams — the better to set off the flavors and textures of warm pies, rich cakes and sweet fruit. It is less filling and dense, so it can be paired with another dessert without making the whole thing too heavy.
“I like that you can eat it without feeling like you just chewed through Fort Knox,” he said.
From a fussbudget’s standpoint, the fact that this ice cream can be made without even turning on the stove is irresistible. It is necessary to heat the milk and cream, to infuse the flavors properly, but that can be done in a microwave.
From a dietary standpoint, Philadelphia-style ice cream happens to be lower in fat than custard-based ice creams. (I often toss a scoop into a breakfast fruit smoothie, without feeling that its health-giving properties are being compromised.)
And from a culinary standpoint, when it melts in your mouth, it leaves behind not a lingering slick of butterfat or egg yolk, but a clean dairy taste.
Ice creams with eggs are more concentrated, with an almost chewy quality that makes them feel luxurious. The eggs also make ice cream smoother and longer-lasting, and prevent it from melting quickly.
But if you aren’t planning on opening a scoop shop, you don’t need these perks. And without eggs, the whole process of making ice cream moves along much more briskly. All you have to do is put your hands on good dairy products, flavor them to your taste and get them very, very cold.
Read the label
When shopping for dairy products, be mindful of labels. You might assume that a container of “heavy cream” contains only that. But additives like carrageenan and guar gum can lurk in the container, even ones labeled organic.
Ultrapasteurized or UHT heavy cream is everywhere: To extend shelf life, it is heated to 280 degrees, as opposed to the 162 degrees required for basic pasteurization. But this changes the texture and how the cream behaves in cooking. While you can use it for ice cream, it often has a “cooked” taste that masks the fresh cream flavor.
And if you’re bothering to make ice cream at home, isn’t freshness exactly what you’re after? Usually, smaller dairies — the ones that sell their products at farmers’ markets, for example — do not ultrapasteurize their products. Find them; patronize them. Preserving that flavor, and eliminating artificial flavors and colors, is one of the ways homemade ice cream improves on the commercial product.
Similarly, when adding sugar (or maple syrup, agave or honey) to your homemade ice cream, take advantage of your ability to control the sweetness. Add sugar tentatively, tasting as you go. The mixture should taste a little too sweet before it goes into the churn: the cold air mixed in by the machine will blunt the sweetness.
And for the best results, a simple tip: Both mixture and machine should be as cold as possible. Do not pour a semichilled mixture into a partly frozen machine and hope for the best. Do not glance at your phone in the middle of this step. Even a few degrees can make a difference in achieving the tiny ice crystals that are the key to great ice cream.
Large ice crystals are hard and crunchy; you can feel them in ice cream that’s melted and been refrozen. The faster your ice cream goes from liquid to frozen, the smaller its ice crystals are, and the creamier the texture will be.
Why Philadelphia-style? When ice cream first became popular in the United States in the 19th century, all-dairy ice cream was the norm.
Custard-based ice creams were referred to as “French style” — as in French vanilla — and they became synonymous with elegance and luxury. Superrich ice creams made with cream (no milk), or with cream and eggs, acquired names like “Waldorf” and “Delmonico.”
But the earlier formula of milk and cream lived on in Philadelphia: in cartons of Breyers, founded there in 1866; in the cones at Bassetts in Reading Terminal Market, the oldest family run ice cream business in the country; and at the marble counters of the Franklin Fountain.
“Philadelphians have great respect for history,” Eric Berley said. “We wouldn’t change something as important as ice cream very lightly.”
EASIEST VANILLA ICE CREAM
Makes about 1 quart
2 cups heavy cream, preferably organic and not ultrapasteurized
2 cups half-and-half, preferably organic, or 1 cup additional heavy cream plus 1 cup whole milk
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out with the tip of a sharp knife, or 3 tablespoons (about 8 bags) loose Earl Grey tea plus 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup sugar or ¾ cup light corn syrup, more to taste
½ teaspoon salt, more to taste
1. In a saucepan or a microwave-safe container, combine cream, half-and-half and vanilla bean and seeds (or tea and vanilla extract). On the stove or in the microwave, bring mixture to a simmer. Immediately turn off heat.
2. Add sugar or corn syrup and salt and mix until sugar dissolves, about one minute. Taste and add more sugar and salt as needed to balance the flavors. The mixture should taste slightly too sweet when warm; the sweetness will be muted when the ice cream is frozen.
3. Strain mixture into a container and refrigerate until very cold, at least four hours and preferably overnight.
4. Churn mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and let freeze until hard.