Why make your own ice cream? For me, it was a matter of what to do with an elegant surfeit of both strawberries and cream left over from the previous weekend's adventures. Waste not, want not, make ice cream. But the real reason was revealed almost as soon as the paddle was out of the bucket: It makes people happy! A carton of Ben & Jerry's may be insurance against a bad day, a cone at Bi-Rite good for fun in the sun, but homemade ice cream is a party.
And you don't even have to own an ice-cream maker. That's what Facebook is for: put out a call for help and a hour later you'll have friends all around the city dusting off their mostly-unused wedding presents for the promise of mocha-chip. Krups? Cuisinart? Whaddya want? 24 hours and a helpful neighbor later, I had a tub of pink deliciousness on hand, rich, creamy and infused with ripe berry flavor. No eggs, no custard fussiness, just cream, sugar, and strawberries: pure summery bliss.
Wait, it took 24 hours to make that ice cream? Well, not exactly. But you do have to start the process the day before you want to eat your cone. Yes, this is a drag; after all, what is ice cream but an impulsive treat, and if all you want is five minutes' instant gratification (not a bad thing, by any means), then you might as well go down to Joe's or Mitchell's, hand over your money and be done with it.
But, like I said, there's something about homemade ice cream that draws a crowd, turning any afternoon gathering into a celebration. Plus, once everything's good to go (more on that below), the actual churning process takes less than 45 minutes and is quite fun to watch. It's liquid, it's slushy liquid, wow, it's ice cream, whipping around and around, getting fluffier by the minute!
Why the delay? Most ice cream recipes call for heating the cream, milk, and sugar to a gentle steam in order to dissolve the granules. So first it's hot, then after a hour of sitting around, it's room temp. Still not good enough, since what you want is a very short road from cream to slush to frozen velvet, achieved only by chilling the mixture in the fridge for at least four or five hours, until icy cold. Meanwhile, unless your rich uncle has bequeathed you his Pacojet, you'll also probably need to freeze the container of your ice-cream maker for a good 24 hours before using.
So, yes, plan ahead. As the sternly worded, multi-lingual instructions for the ice-cream maker will tell you, trying to rush will lead only to tears, frustration, and why-isn't-this-working-Dad??
(Then again, settling for an It's It isn't the worst thing that could happen. Ah, It's Its, how I love them! Just one of the many things to cherish about our fair city. The unexpected flavors, like cappuccino and mint; the little picture of the chocolate coating flowing like lava over the oatmeal cookies: all in all, a masterpiece of corner-store gustatory seduction, if you ask me.)
And while your paddle is churning away, doing all the work for you, you can dip into Of Sugar and Snow: A History of Ice Cream Making, by Jeri Quinzio. Quinzio, a food historian and the author a previous book on ice cream, leaves no Eskimo Pie unexamined in her painstakingly detailed exploration of ice-cream making from its beginnings in mid-16th century Europe to its meteoric rise in popularity during the early years of the 20th century in America. As you might expect from a book capped with 23 pages of scholarly citations (and funded by the University of California Press Foundation, as part of its California Studies in Food and Culture series), the accretion of minutia (Want to know exactly who first held the patent on the ice-cream cone? Or the many apocryphal stories of its invention? Or how fancy versions were once piped with icing around the top, dusted with chopped pistachios, filled with a mixture of ginger ice and apple ice cream and finally served on a doily-lined silver tray?) can be a little mind-numbing.
Quinzio, although clearly a dogged researcher, is no Mark Kurlansky, a writer who can make even the most ordinary of topics (cod, salt) into rollicking good reads. You really have to want to know what Quinzio has to share, but for those with a serious appetite for culinary history, the nuggets can be worth it. Who knew, for example that ice cream was aligned with the anti-alcohol Temperance Movement, posited as the family man's happy-making substitute for beer?
Surely even Quinzio would forgive you for putting down her 200-page magnum opus in exchange for a spoon, a banana, and a maraschino cherry. Think all your pals are too busy these days to get together without 3 weeks' notice? Just put out the magic call--There's homemade ice cream in my freezer! Who wants a cone?--and the doorbell will ring, I promise you. Very quickly, I discovered that I couldn't stop at strawberry. With recipes from Ina Gartner's book Barefoot Contessa Parties! on hand, I soon had a freezer full of homemade vanilla, caramel, and bourbon-caramel to go with the strawberry. Which led, even faster, to a whole bunch of impromptu parties, buoyed by tea, champagne, bowls of cherries and plates of fancy little cookies. Easy, sweet, and perfect for summer.
Strawberry Ice Cream
Proportions are pretty flexible here; if you want a less rich (but slightly icier) ice cream, you could use half milk and half cream. The sweetness will get less pronounced once the mixture is frozen, so keep that in mind as you sugar your berries.
Makes 1 quart
4 cups heavy cream
1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar, depending on sweetness of berries
pinch of salt
2 pint baskets ripe, fragrant strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
1. Over low heat in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, warm cream, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt until sugar is dissolved and cream is hot but not boiling. (Boiling will make the cream separate, not what you want.) Remove from heat and let cool.
2. Meanwhile, mix strawberries with 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar. Crush some of the berries with the back of a spoon. Let berries sit, covered, at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and berries have released their juice. Taste strawberry mixture for sweetness, adding more sugar as necessary.
3. Refrigerate cream and strawberry mixtures separately for several hours or overnight, until very cold.
4. Mix strawberries and cream together. Assemble ice cream maker and pour in strawberry mixture, freezing according to manufacturer's directions. When it's thick and fluffy and looks like ice cream, scoop it into a freezer-safe container and let harden in the freezer for a few hours. Or hand out spoons to your favorite people and eat it all up right there.