The White Stuff
Thanks to modern conveniences like zip-close bags and easy access to ice, it’s incredibly easy to make smooth and delicious ice cream right at home, even without an expensive contraption.
Ice cream has a very long and storied past, believing to have origins spreading back as far as the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). But it would be hardly recognizable compared to what we call ice cream, as it was a frozen milk-like concoction made of fermented cow, goat, or buffalo milk mixed with strange and exotic ingredients for flavor and texture like camphor.
But ice cream as we now know it and love it was conceptualized in Europe — primarily in Italy, France, and England. It all began when chilled, nondairy drinks became all the rage as far back as ancient Roman times. Laborers were sent high up into the mountains to gather snow or ice and store it in ice pits that were dug in the ground. Then, in the 17th century, chefs within the kitchens of royalty and the aristocratic classes began to experiment with warm custard and cream recipes that had been around since the Middle Ages. They reconfigured these into combinations of chilled cream, sugar, eggs, and flavorings like strawberry, chocolate, lemon, orange flower water and even eggplant — all forerunners for what modern day ice cream would eventually become.
Frozen confections were for centuries a divine treat for the ruling classes only, as it was expensive and extremely time consuming to make before modern machinery, with cooks sometimes churning cream for hours upon hours to get it to freeze. But all of that began to change when Nancy Johnson had a mechanical ice cream machine patented in 1843. More advances were made after that, and by the latter half of the 19th century, Europe and America both were flooded with street vendors selling cheap glasses of ice cream from ramshackle carts to the masses.
With the invention of soda water came the iconic, classic American soda shops in an explosion of popularity, then roadside pop-ups and chains like Dairy Queen, and eventually the mass-market for ice cream as it is today. In 2008, Americans consumed 3.5 billion liters of ice cream, with no signs of slowing down since. Whether it’s because ice cream invokes nostalgic childhood memories or is simply a great go-to when the sweet tooth strikes, one thing is true: we all clearly scream for ice cream.
Thanks to modern conveniences like zip-close bags and easy access to ice, it’s also incredibly easy to make smooth and delicious ice cream right at home, even without an expensive ice cream maker. If the kids are getting restless as summer starts to set in, or if you are looking for a fun alternative date night activity, making ice cream at home is incredibly fun and rewarding. Grab whatever toppings you might like and follow this recipe.
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 1.5 Tbsps. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. vaAnilla
- 1/3 cup kosher or coarse salt
- 1 quart-sized plastic zip-close bag
- 1 gallon-sized plastic zip-close bag
1. Combine half-and-half, vanilla, and sugar in the small plastic bag. Seal bag tightly, making sure to press out any air trapped inside the bag.
2. Mix ice and salt in the gallon-sized bag. Place the small bag into the large plastic bag and seal tightly.
3. Shake the bag vigorously for about 5 minutes. You can even make it fun by tossing it back and forth to one another (but you might need to wear winter gloves as it gets very cold).
4. After about 5 minutes, the liquid inside the smaller bag has hardened. Without opening the bags, let them sit on a plate or a towel for another few minutes, rearranging the ice in the larger bag so it’s surrounding the smaller bag.
5. Take out the smaller bag from the larger bag and briefly rinse one corner of the bag under cold water to remove any salty residue. Using scissors, snip the corner of the bag and squeeze out ice cream into a cup or cone. Serve immediately.
What’s the Difference?
- Ice Cream: In the U.S. ice cream is a mixture of milk, cream, and sugar, and must contain no less than 10 percent milkfat. Commercial ice cream also contains a significant amount of “overrun,” an industry term for the amount of air that is legally allowed to be whipped into the ice cream during production (the faster the ice cream is whipped, the more air that gets inside). Overrun is responsible for that sometimes less than desirable “airy” or “fluffy” texture in cheaper ice creams.
- Premium and Super-Premium Ice Cream: Premium ice cream contains around 13-15 percent milkfat, and Super-Premium 16-20 percent. Both also contain far less air, resulting in a rich and creamy product.
- Soft-Serve: Soft-Serve is ice cream that contains very low milkfat — 3-6 percent — more air, and is produced and served at a slightly warmer temperature than regular ice cream, resulting in a less hard, less packed variety.
- Gelato: Meaning “frozen” in Italian, gelato’s amazingly rich, dense texture is primarily the result of being whipped much slower than ice cream, allowing for less air to get into the mix — only 20 percent as opposed to ice cream, which is 60 percent and higher. If you were to pick up a pint of ice cream and a pint of gelato, the gelato will weigh more as a result of having less air. Gelato is also served at a slightly higher temperature than standard ice cream, allowing for its silky smooth body. It also contains less butterfat than ice cream, between 4-8 percent.
- Sorbet/Sorbetto: Sorbet is the French term, and Sorbetto Italian. They both mean a frozen product containing absolutely no dairy, only sweetened fruit juices or water, and sometimes wine. Many are tempted to think that sorbet is healthier because it has less fat, but be careful; sorbet will often contain more sugar than its dairy cousin. There is also very little air present within sorbet.
- Frozen Custard: Like ice cream, frozen custard is made from a combination of sugar, milk, and cream. Also like ice cream, it must contain at least 10 percent milkfat. But the first big difference is custard must additionally incorporate egg yolks. Though some commercial ice creams might possibly include egg yolks in their base, a true custard must contain 1.4 percent egg yolks by weight. The second main difference is a professional custard machine works almost no air into the mixture while it’s being made, and the resulting custard will be served straight from the machine. Both the egg yolk content and the machine give custard its rich, decadent body. Custard’s higher dairy content may also be why it upsets some people’s stomachs more than regular ice cream.
- Frozen Yogurt: Frozen yogurt, like ice cream, is a dairy product mixed with sugar, but it does not contain any cream. Instead, frozen yogurt is made with cultured milk, resulting in a slightly tarter frozen dessert that is much lower in fat (but be careful not to go overboard with the compensatory sugary toppings).
- Nitro Ice Cream: Making its big debut in Oklahoma at the Tulsa State Fair some years ago, Nitro Ice Cream is a scrumptiously smooth and sweet frozen treat. It’s made of the same components as regular ice cream (milk, sugar, cream) but with the addition of nitrogen, it is rapidly frozen in under five minutes. This quick freezing method allows the fat and water molecules to stay very small, resulting in an extremely creamy product.
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