Ice cream and summer walk hand-in-hand down an Atlantic boardwalk, breathing in the salty sea air. They go for a sail on Lake Michigan. They hang at outdoor fests and carnivals, fireworks displays, baseball games, and parades. They are BFFs, and we are the beneficiaries of their mutual admiration society.
Sure, we’ve got our share of amazing ice cream in Chicago, but here’s a secret: It’s not hard to make at home. Let’s first dispel some myths: Not all ice cream recipes call for eggs. Vegan ice cream can be delectable. Frozen yogurt can be made with ingredients you can pronounce. And ice cream makers are the bomb, I’m not gonna lie, but there ARE “no-churn” recipes out there (I’ve included one below), so you don’t have to have one. (But if you are in the market for one, I use and love the KitchenAid Stand Mixer Ice Cream Maker Attachment and the Cuisinart ICE-100 has gotten great reviews.)
This is a terrific family activity, and truly, no random half-gallon or pint grabbed out of the freezer at the Jewel is going to taste half as good, because ice cream is only as good as its ingredients. So, if you control the dairy products (organic only, in my opinion), fresh fruit and herbs (hello, backyard or farmers market!), sustainably sourced coffee and chocolate, and spices (freshly ground at The Spice House, preferably) that go into your frozen concoctions, imagine how the finished product will taste. Quality in, quality out! Time to — perhaps literally — get cranking.
Let’s start at the very beginning, as it’s a very good place to start, I’m told. Expat David Lebovitz is a legendary pastry chef, and his vanilla ice cream is anything but boring. Right now, with the price of vanilla at historic highs, it’s also anything but cheap! This is a classic custard-base recipe, as you’re basically making a crème anglaise and then churning it. It’s a good technique to master.
So many farmers market strawberries, and they were sweet, but not candy sweet, you know? But roasting fruit is a great way to intensify and concentrate flavor. I found this recipe and made it, although I reduced the balsamic to 1 tablespoon and added a 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom to the simmering cream mixture because I love cardamom, and it was perfection. Or go with it as is. It’s a win-win situation.
If you don’t know of the legendary Bay Area chocolate goddess Alice Medrich, this ice cream will have you running to your local bookstore to pick up one of her seminal cookbooks (“Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy” and “Seriously Bittersweet” are two of my personal faves) and start cooking from them, STAT. It’s genius, really. This is an eggless recipe, and the nibs add character without it turning into a full-on chocolate assault.
Oh, my, my. I had the most amazing Maine Blueberry-Buttermilk Shake at Duckfat in Portland last summer and the experience is still seared in my memory. So naturally, when blueberry season rolls around, my first thought is “MUST RECREATE THAT FLAVOR PROFILE.” Thank you, Stella Parks, for enabling me to do so. Cue the stretch pants.
My daughter Leah (@bakin_ontheside on Insta), consultant by day and baker by night (and weekend), has no ice cream maker, but that hasn’t stopped her from “churning” out the frozen treats. She swears by this Food 52 recipe, the perfect blend of creamy, sweet, and tart. Don’t skip the suggested topping of Estela’s Candied Sesame Seeds. They provide great textural contrast.
Another churn-free recipe! Semifreddo (Italian for half-frozen) has the creaminess you want in a gelato, but the texture is different — more like an icy, frozen mousse. Once the mixture (a heart-throb combo of bittersweet chocolate, vanilla, cream, and Italian meringue) is ready, it’s scraped into a large loaf pan and frozen until solid. If you think ahead, and you should, line the pan with plastic wrap, and you can remove the prepared semifreddo and slice for service. If not, no one will complain about a scoop of this frozen manna from heaven.
Warning: You might think this is too easy a process to taste good. You would be wrong. Fans of Indian lassi will rejoice, and those new to the blend of mangoes, yogurt, sugar, lime zest, and juice, and a bit of salt to heighten flavor, will be forever converted. No cooking required!
This is what we call a master recipe, and you don’t have to be a vegan to appreciate the freedom that comes with that. But you do have to be a coconut fan, because of all the various and sundry substitution milks (oat, almond, cashew, coconut, et al), full-fat coconut milk allows the closest possible approximation to the texture of a classic ice cream. Use this as a jumping off point for your imagination: Add fruit puree, chopped or grated chocolate, candied ginger nibs, nuts … or keep it simple. It’s all good.
When peaches are at the height of their season this summer, grab a bagful at the farmers market and make this dairy-free sorbet. It’s just peachy. Might I suggest a raspberry sauce on top? This one from the Gunny Sack is perfect.
It’s no secret I’m obsessed with Smitten Kitchen (see any recipe roundup by me, ever). But make these and tell me I’m wrong. I dare you. Salty, sweet, umami … it’s a tidal wave of scrumptious and you cannot escape the pull. A great use for your homemade ice cream!
Celebrate the launch of Molly Yeh’s new Food Network show, “Girl Meets Farm,” with this crazy-delish milkshake inspired by a visit to Philadelphia’s Goldie. Vanilla ice cream never had it so good, because tahini, vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate cookies are coming to the party. Gilding the lily: freshly whipped cream and, of course, rainbow sprinkles.
There’s not an ice cream in captivity that isn’t improved by the addition of hot fudge, am I right? And this one’s a keeper. Ordinarily, I shy away from corn syrup, but sometimes it’s needed as a textural element. It prevents the brown sugar in the recipe from becoming grainy, and keeps the sauce smooth and thick. Not to mention the double chocolate element — cocoa and chopped bittersweet — for the win.
More from Make It Better:
- Best of 2018: Dining
- 10 Perfect Summer Picnic Recipes
- Chicago’s 8 Best Frozen Cocktails You Have to Try This Summer
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and sits on the boards of Les Dames d’Escoffier International and Northlight Theatre. She and husband Josh are empty nesters since adult kids Adam and Leah have flown the coop. Rosie the Cockapoo relishes the extra attention.