For my mother, who was raised on a Nebraska farm, making ice cream was a much-loved ritual. My sister and I and assorted friends would pile into the car and set off with my mom to buy all the ingredients — eggs, cream, rock salt, a big bag of ice — and hurry straight back before the ice melted.
My mother would have made her custard base the night before. Once we had everything assembled, she’d carefully pour the ivory mixture into the hand-cranked ice cream maker’s inner container and then insert the wooden paddles. Outside on the patio, we packed ice and rock salt around the inner container, and start churning in relays. The smallest kids went first, when the crank was easier to turn. The bigger kids would step in when turning required more force. Anticipation made us giddy. Who would ever trade this much fun for a carton of ice cream from the supermarket?
Once the handle got too hard to turn, my mother would remove the paddles as we all stood waiting for a lick. Then she packed new ice around the ice cream container and set the whole thing under blankets in the bathtub to “cure” for a while.
That moment when she dished out the hand-churned ice cream into waiting bowls was sheer magic. On a summer day, you had to eat it fast — before it melted into a puddle. No problem. In happy ecstasy, we rolled the silky frozen cream over our tongues, tasting egg, cream, and real vanilla.
We never had to beg my mother to make ice cream. She’d take any excuse. She loved it so much, she’d make it even in the depth of winter. Same drill. Turning the crank on the patio, only this time, instead of shorts and bathing suits, we’d be wearing jeans and sweaters. When the ice cream was ready, she’d pass out the heavy wool coats she’d accumulated when we lived on the East Coast. And we’d sit bundled in her red-and-black plaid or tweed coats, happily eating her vanilla ice cream. Of course, we always ate it so fast we’d get a headache that felt like someone had plunged an icicle into the middle of our foreheads.
In one move or another, I lost my hand-cranked ice cream maker and replaced it years ago with an Italian gelato machine that was all the rage — and deeply discounted. Crazy loud and a bit temperamental, it makes beautiful ice cream. But humming away in my pantry closet, it doesn’t create any of that shared experience I had as a kid making ice cream with the gang.
Vanilla is still my favorite flavor, though strawberry and fresh peach are close. My ice cream is custard-based. The only difference from my mother’s recipe is that I use vanilla bean rather than the vanilla extract. Or I did until cookbook author David Lebovitz (“The Perfect Scoop”) taught me that it’s way better to use both. His recipe is the best I’ve ever found, and I make it all the time now.
In summer, I serve it plain with butter cookies and sometimes with berries strewn over the top. If I feel a chocolate craving coming on, I make a batch of Alice Medrich’s hot fudge sauce and serve that ivory ice cream with her satiny dark hot fudge poured over.
Vanilla Ice Cream
1 hour, plus chilling and freezing times. Makes about 1 quart (8 half-cup servings)
1 cup milk
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups heavy cream
5 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
-In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, salt and sugar, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them to the saucepan, then drop in the pod. Cover, remove from the heat and set aside to steep at room temperature for 30 minutes.
-Pour the cream into a medium bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.
-Reheat the milk mixture until it’s warm. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks, then gradually add some of the warm milk mixture, whisking constantly as you pour. Pour the warmed yolks back into the saucepan.
-Cook over low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan with a heatproof spatula until the custard is thick enough to coat the spatula. Pour the custard through the mesh strainer into the heavy cream. Rinse the vanilla pod and return it to the custard to continue steeping. Stir in the vanilla extract.
-Set the bowl containing the custard over a larger bowl of ice water. Stir the custard until cool, then cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled.
-Remove the vanilla pod, rinsing and reserving it for another use, and then freeze the chilled custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Nutrition: Calories 334; protein 4 g; carbohydrates 22 g; fiber 0; fat 26 grams; saturated fat 15 g; cholesterol 201 mg; sugar 21 g; sodium 59 mg
Adapted from “Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes” by David Lebovitz.
VARIATION: To make stracciatella, melt 5 ounces of bittersweet chocolate until smooth, then drizzle a very thin stream of the warm chocolate over one quart of the ice cream during the last possible moment of churning. If the chocolate clings too much to the dasher, remove the ice cream from the machine and drizzle the chocolate into the frozen ice cream by hand while you layer it into the storage container, breaking up any chunks as you stir.
Bittersweet Hot Fudge Sauce
30 minutes. Makes about 1 pint (16 servings)
9 to 10 ounces bittersweet (70 percent) chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
-This sauce is foolproof so long as you heat it slowly: In the top of a double boiler over (and touching) barely simmering water, combine the chocolate, cream, sugar, corn syrup and water. Stir frequently until all the chocolate has melted, then stir occasionally until the sauce is thick and glossy and is between 160 and 165 degrees (the exact temperature is not critical so long as you are close), 15 to 20 minutes (going slowly is the key here). Remove from the heat.
-Serve the sauce immediately, or set it aside until needed. It can be kept, covered and refrigerated, for at least a week or frozen for 3 months. Reheat in a double boiler or microwave on medium (50 percent) power, using short bursts and stirring frequently. Do not simmer or boil.
Nutrition: Calories 124; protein 1 g; carbohydrates 13 g; fiber 2 g; fat 8 g; saturated fat 5 g; cholesterol 0; sugar 8 g; sodium 3 mg.
Adapted from “Bittersweet” by Alice Medrich.