A quick poll: Everyone who dislikes ice cream, please stand....
I rest my case! No one, it seems, doesn't love ice cream.
No surprise, really. It's cool, rich, creamy, and comes in an endless variety of flavors. It's perfect mixed with everything from M&Ms and nuts to chocolate chips and peppermint. There's even a garlic-laced ice cream that's a sellout at the annual Garlic Festival in Gilmore, Calif.
Not that all flavors work. Celebrity chef Bobby Flay concocted one with golden nuggets of fresh corn kernels that he had his good friend Bryant Gumbel sample on "The Early Show" a number of years ago. Mr. Gumbel, with much levity, declared it "terrible" and the worst-tasting ice cream he'd ever had. But Gumbel hates cheese, and can you trust anyone's palate who hates cheese? Still, it's doubtful you'll ever find corn ice cream on Ben & Jerry's menu board.
Where did this otherwise universally loved dessert come from? Who discovered it? Who invented it? Who popularized it?
Popular lore has given partial credit to everyone from Marco Polo who found it (and everything else, it seems) in China, to Nero Claudius Caesar, who sent his slaves to the mountain peaks to retrieve ice to make it, to the royal chef of England's King Charles I, to the kitchens of Catherine de' Medici, to Al Gore. No, wait – that was the Internet.
George Washington owned a contraption called a "cream machine for making ice." Washington was so fond of ice cream that he spent more than $200 making it in the summer of 1790. (Depending on whom you ask, that's the equivalent of several thousand dollars today.) Thomas Jefferson's fondness for it is legendary: He is credited with putting the "French" in French vanilla – the incorporation of egg whites into the custard.
But what does its history really matter? There are more stories and legends about ice cream than Baskin-Robbins has flavors. We all have it now, along with its equally cool cousins sorbet, sherbet, ices, Italian gelato and semifreddos, and on and on. In a shake or on a slice of cake, ice cream puts the "ooh-la-la" in "a la mode."
Ice cream is, by nature, a very simple recipe consisting of cream, milk, sugar, and flavoring, all churned to incorporate air, and chilled to a semisolid consistency.
When it comes to ice cream today, pastry chef and cookbook author Emily Luchetti has the scoop on making your own homemade ice cream. Real homemade ice cream.
In "A Passion for Ice Cream," Ms. Luchetti circumvents history and rather devotes her space to listing ingredients for making the best frozen desserts, reviewing ice-cream makers and other equipment; and explaining exactly what ice cream is.
Federal law, it seems, has set the standard. Ice cream must have at least 10 percent milk fat. This minimal amount, according to Luchetti, "isn't worth eating." In the churning process, air is incorporated into the mix, something called "overrun." The amount of air affects the density and quality of the ice cream. More air makes for poorer quality and – of course – cheaper price. High overrun can produce ice cream that is as much as 50 percent air. But "Who," Luchetti asks rhetorically, "wants to eat and pay for air?"
With homemade ice cream, you're in charge of quality control. You pick the ingredients: the freshest fruit in season, the best chocolate, the nuts you like, all this with no stabilizers, all without the dreaded high overrun. Then Luchetti takes you by the chilly hand and gives you 95 recipes with which to create the best ice cream you've ever had.
Before long, you'll be making, "Tin Roof Semifreddos with Roasted Pears and Spanish Peanuts," or at least a chocolate ice cream that you'll wish would never end.
So, maybe Al Gore didn't invent ice cream, or even the Internet, but maybe we can all sacrifice a little to do our bit to ease global warming by making more ice cream.
Pure and simple, without the adornment of additives to disguise it, vanilla is the standard by which all ice creams are judged. It's the perfect foil for fruit, fruit pies, and sauces. No wonder vanilla always ranks highest among ice cream lovers.
Vanilla ice cream
4 cups heavy cream, or 2 cups heavy cream and 2 cups light cream
3/4 cups granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons pure (not artificial) vanilla
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Pour into an electric or hand-cranked ice-cream maker and process according to manufacturer's directions.
Makes 1 luscious quart.
The following recipes are from "A Passion for Ice Cream," by Emily Luchetti. The chunky strawberry sauce is the perfect topping for vanilla ice cream, among others. The sugared mint leaves can garnish most any flavored ice cream. Lime ice cream may be topped with blueberries. Ms. Luchetti likes to use kosher salt in her recipes. Other salts will work as well. Note: You'll need a candy thermometer for the lime ice cream recipe.
Lime ice cream with sugared mint leaves
For the lime ice cream:
4 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt
2-1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
1-1/4 cups milk
Grated zest of 3 limes
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
For the sugared mint leaves:
1 egg white
About 3 tablespoons sugar
18 fresh mint leaves
To make the ice cream: In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of sugar, and the salt. Combine the cream, milk, lime zest, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a heavy saucepan. Heat the cream and milk over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until almost simmering. Slowly pour the hot liquid into the egg-and-sugar mixture, whisking as you pour. Return the egg-and-cream mixture to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant plastic or wooden spatula, until the custard reaches 175 degrees F. and lightly coats the spatula.
Strain the custard into a clean bowl, discarding the lime zest. Cool over an ice bath (a large bowl filled with ice) until room temperature. Stir in the lime juice. Refrigerate for four hours or as long as overnight. Churn in an ice-cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. Freeze for about four hours until scoopable, depending on your freezer.
To make the mint leaves: In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg white with a fork. Put the sugar in another small bowl. Using a pastry brush, very lightly brush both sides of a mint leaf with the egg white. Dip the leaf into the sugar, completely coating it. Place the mint leaf on a plate. Repeat with the remaining mint leaves, making sure they are not touching as you place them on the plate. Let sit at room temperature until dry, about four hours. Store in a single layer in an airtight container.
Divide ice cream into six bowls. Garnish with mint leaves. Blueberries may also be added, if you wish. Serves 6.
Sometimes, you don't want a smooth sauce, you want little chunks to give it more personality. As always, taste the sauce for sweetness before adding all the sugar, as the sweetness of the strawberries will vary.
Chunky strawberry sauce
2 pints fresh strawberries, hulled
1/4 cup sugar, plus more if needed
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Large pinch of kosher (coarse) salt
Cut two-thirds of the berries into quarters and puree them in a food processor until smooth. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve, discarding the seeds.
Cut the remaining berries into 1/2-inch pieces. Stir them into the puree along with the 1/4 cup sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Taste for sweetness. Add more sugar if necessary. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
The sauce can be made as much as two days in advance.