Do you love making ice cream, but feel like you could up your game a little? Maybe it’s your first attempt at making frozen dessert and you want it to be perfect? You’ve come to the right place. Having made ice cream every week for several years, we’ve compiled all our top tips for making ice cream on one page. Forget learning by trial and error, absorb the advice on this page and you’ll take your skills to “expert level” in one day.
These tips have been broken into each stage of the ice cream making process. Click one of the links below to jump to a section that's of interest.
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1. Improving the mixture
Start with the best milk and cream
You’ve probably heard this before, with every cooking show talking about the importance of using the best ingredients you can get your hands on. Ice cream is a dish that benefits from fresh, organic whole milk and heavy cream. They’re the main ingredients and if budget allows, get the good stuff; but don’t stress over this tip too excessively, it won’t make or break your ice cream.
Use fresh flavors
Source the freshest herbs and spices you can find, without breaking the bank. Are you making mint ice cream? Find the most vibrant, freshly picked mint available because it will help your ice cream.
Don’t mess with the fat and sugar
Recipes published in cookbooks and popular online ice cream recipes have usually been tested thoroughly to make sure they work. If you’re trying to cut back on sugar or fat intake, don’t substitute in low-fat milk or halve the sugar. It will very likely impact the texture of the final ice cream badly. Even small adjustments can have a big impact.
Use quality salt
A pinch of salt will enhance the other flavors of the other ingredients. Choosing the right salt may not seem a big one, but cheap table salt will taint the flavor of your custard base. Instead, use kosher salt, Himalayan pink salt, or even Fleur de Sel if you have some.
Add a stabilizer
If you’re frustrated by hard ice cream then a stabilizer such as xanthan gum, locust bean gum or guar gum will help. They’re excellent at absorbing water and helping to suspend the structure of the ice cream – making it airier, lighter and scoopable. Our favorite is tactic is adding ⅛tsp of guar gum for one quart of ice cream. Don’t add it straight to the liquid as it will clump and turn into an unpleasant gum. Instead, thoroughly mix it into a spoon of sugar, then whisk it into the rest of the sugar. By distributing the guar gum granules through the sugar, it’ll stop any clumping.
Consider water content in fruit
Some fruits contain a lot of water content, which makes them a challenge for making ice cream as the water can turn them icy and unpleasant. Strawberries are a good example of a fruit that needs to be prepared correctly, by either blending very finely or macerate in alcohol overnight.
2. Cooking the custard base
Don’t allow the custard to boil
A common ingredient used in ice cream is the egg yolk, as they work as excellent emulsifiers. They can be temperamental if exposed to excessive heat. Never allow your custard base to boil, as the yolks may cook. The result is scrambled eggs and you’ll need to toss everything out and start again.
Most herbs are best added at the end of cooking
Tasty fresh herbs like basil and mint should be added at the end of the cook so that they don’t lose their intensity. Then allow the infusion to chill in the fridge overnight.
Cut out the yolks for lighter and more flavor
Do you prefer light, airy ice cream that isn’t too dense? Try leaving out the egg yolks and replace them with cornstarch. In addition to changing the texture, the flavors of the other ingredients will be more prominent. However, egg plays a key role in stabilizing the ice cream. You’ll want to eat the eggless ice cream within a few days of making it, or preferably all of it that night.
Use skim milk powder
Skim milk powder is a brilliant addition to ice cream. It is low in fat but high in protein, making it an ideal ingredient for soaking up water and improving the ice cream’s texture.
Slowly temper the eggs
When tempering the egg yolks, only add a quarter cup of heated milk, and remember to whisk furiously. This step allows the eggs to gradually heat up without cooking.
3. Aging the base
Chill the custard thoroughly
Making ice cream is exciting, and it can be tempting to attempt churning it too soon. It is essential that the custard base is chilled for a few hours, but preferably overnight.
Use an airtight container
When aging the base, store it in an airtight container to stop unwanted aromas from the fridge finding its way into your food. Onions are especially good at transferring their pungent smell to other foods.
Add extracts at the right time
Flavor extracts like maple, vanilla, or almond should be whisked in just before churning. Adding them during cooking will reduce their intensity.
Choose a suitable ice cream maker
Even the best recipe for ice cream will be let down by a poor ice cream machine. Choose a well-respected brand with a lot of positive feedback. You can also check out our review of the best ice cream makers to find the perfect product for your needs.
Invest in a second bowl
If your ice cream maker doesn’t have a built-in compressor, you’ll need to freeze a bowl overnight. This can be a problem if you want to churn two different flavors, or if your first attempt fails. A second bowl provides a lot more flexibility. Of course, you’ll need a freezer that can fit two bowls at the same time.
Have everything set up in advance
Avoid removing the frozen bowl, then spending 5 minutes or more getting everything set up. Get ready to churn, with a spatula and the custard mix open and ready. The last step is to remove the bowl and start the freezing process.
Freeze bowl overnight on the coldest setting
Set your freezer to its coldest setting so that your bowl is especially cold when it comes time to churn the ice cream.
Freeze the spatula and the container you’ll scoop the ice cream into for 30 minutes before they’re needed. Anything at room temperature coming into contact with the ice cream will slightly warm the ice cream and encourage larger crystal formation.
Overfilling the ice cream maker will place unnecessary strain on the appliance. If you’re using a freezer bowl machine then it may not entirely freeze the custard base before losing its coldness. Remember to allow for overrun as well – the liquid is likely to increase by 20-30% as the air gets whipped into it.
During freezing, pour in up to a quarter cup of alcohol to reduce the freezing point of the liquid. This is a simple way to make creamier ice cream. Vodka (40%) is an excellent option as it is virtually flavorless
Freeze custard for 20 minutes before churning
A quick session in the freezer before churning will bring the liquid’s temperature down, helping the ice cream maker to get its job done faster.
5. Adding extras
Add the right type
Not all add-ins are suitable for ice cream, so choose options that are a good size, not overly chunky. Some ingredients like chocolate chips can turn into hard bullets once frozen – so you may want to add cooled, melted chocolate instead.
Chill the ad-ins
By chilling the add-ins before adding them, you’ll avoid raising the temperature of the ice cream. Allow time for cooked items to cool sufficiently all the way through, such as brownies or roasted nuts.
Add at the end
Be careful not to toss in the add-ins too early during churning. They should be added at the very end to avoid placing strain on the machine. Also, some add-ins like cake or cookies will break up, spreading crumbs through the ice cream and creating an unpleasant, grainy texture.
Label the container
Add the ice cream type and date on a label for better freezer organization.
Position at the back of the freezer
Make a space at the back of the freezer for your ice cream. This is the ideal spot to avoid temperature fluctuation, which will contribute to icy, hardened ice cream.
Cover with plastic film
A layer of plastic cling wrap on the top surface of the ice cream will prevent the formation of ice crystals. You can also place the container in a freezer bag which helps keep the texture soft.
Avoid aluminum container
Containers made of aluminum taint the flavor of the ice cream. Your best option is plastic or glass.
Keep storage time short
Homemade ice cream doesn’t usually contain the stabilizers and preservatives found in commercial ice cream brands. These ice creams will last months in the freezer; however, the at-home version should be eaten within a week or less. After this time, it will start becoming icy, hard and lose its flavor intensity.
Use a shallow container
Many brands of ice cream are sold in upright containers; but, a better option is to use shallow containers. They expose more surface area, allowing the ice cream to freeze faster. This results in an improved texture.
Related reading: Is ice cream suitable for microwaving? We tested it.
We hope you find these ice cream tips useful for improving your next homemade batch of frozen dessert. We brainstormed these, based on experience. There must be lots more to add here though. Let us know in the comments below if you have a useful tip or technique that’ll take an ice cream recipe to a much higher level.