The reason I stopped using my ice cream maker? Breast milk. When I was nursing our daughter, bags and bags of breast milk overran our freezer. We couldn’t even wedge in a pizza, let alone chill the insert for our little countertop ice cream maker. The years before her arrival had been rich with gelato, sorbet, sherbet—you name it, I churned it, thanks to the countertop ice cream maker we got as a wedding gift. Some batches were stellar; others were flops. But they were all fun.
And that’s why it pays to have an ice cream maker. Sure, there’s the old-fashioned hand-cranked ice cream maker that you have to pack down with ice and salt before attacking the crank with elbow grease. If your life includes sprawling family reunions with a gaggle of energetic young’uns, go for it. And yes, there are methods for creating frozen desserts without an ice cream maker. But even if they yield scoopable, relatively creamy results, they are not, in my opinion, ice cream.
Because my practical streak trumps the appeal of nostalgia, I prefer the Cuisinart ICE-21 ice cream maker for its speed, convenience, and manageable batch size—a quart and a half, as opposed to the monster capacity of those old-timey jobs. The model I have, the ICE-25, is discontinued, but the functionality is essentially the same: there’s an insulated, metal-lined canister to chill the ice cream base, and a motor that spins the canister so the paddle (the “dasher,” in ice cream lingo) churns the ice cream.
Cuisinart makes other, more expensive models, but unless you are a home ice cream gearhead, they don’t offer much that the basic one does not. A $50 budget is your sweet spot.
It takes only ten to twenty minutes for the Cuisinart to freeze a batch. Just try to peer into the ice cream maker as it’s churning and not go into a slack-jawed state of hypnosis. It transforms wan, overly sweet liquid to an undulating frosty whirl right in front of your eyes—how cool is that? In the seven moves since our marriage, my husband and I have ditched a rice cooker, a panini press, a waffle iron, and a quasi-functional immersion blender. The ice cream maker is a frivolity that earns its keep.
Our ice cream maker is the reason my husband Joe knows about overrun—the volume of air churned into the ice cream. Typically, inexpensive ice cream had a high overrun, which is why it melts so quickly: it’s up to 50 percent air. Overrun isn’t bad, but too much yields an ice cream that’s all fluff. Home-churned ice cream has a lower overrun, so it’s richer. I think Joe really likes the word overrun, because he finds a way to work it into conversation any time we eat ice cream. “Hmm, this carton of Breyer’s is pretty light. Must be the overrun, eh?”
We are still happy to stoop to store-bought ice cream, but it has not been hitting the marks like it once could. I used to love Ben & Jerry’s, and I still harbor a soft spot for Coffee Heath Bar Crunch. The rest of their product line I grew out of. They packed it too full of gluey caramel cores and waxy chocolate blobs. If I’m going to spend more than $4 on a pint of ice cream, I want it to be grownup ice cream.
And what is grownup ice cream? It packs in flavor so you don’t need a giant waffle cone to feel satisfied. It’s ice cream that makes you say “dang!” when you take your first lick. Ice cream with unexpected combinations like Bangkok Peanut from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home. Or the mint-basil-avocado vegan ice cream I churned up and then topped with 100 percent non-vegan toasted chocolate cake crumbs. Yes, my first post-weaning batch of ice cream. Our daughter is four now—the ice cream maker was in storage for a long time—and she’s all too delighted to dive into the chilly pleasure that her very existence pushed off to the side for a spell. Even grownup ice cream is high in kid appeal.
And while I love custard-based ice cream, there are plenty of recipes that don’t call for cooking the ice cream base beforehand. That’s why I love this rich, creamy vegan ice cream: steep fresh herbs in almond milk, blend it with an avocado, and pour the works into an ice cream maker. No cooking or cooling necessary.
It combines the bright flavor of Elizabeth Falkner’s basil-mint chip ice cream from The Essence of Chocolate with the luxe mouth eel of Fran Costigan’s mint chocolate chip ice cream from her fantastic Vegan Chocolate. Can you taste the avocado? No. Can you taste the herbs? Hell yeah.
Melting and freezing the chocolate for the chunks may seem like a fussy step, but it assures smooth-melting chocolate; chips or chunks straight from a bag or chocolate bar have a gritty mouth feel once frozen. Try using a few tablespoons of cacao nibs or about half a cup of crushed Oreos for something different.
Vegan Basil-Mint Chip Ice Cream
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 4 hours 30 minutes, including hands-off chilling time
Makes 6 servings
- 40 fresh mint leaves
- 12 fresh basil leaves
- 1/3-1/2 cup agave nectar, depending on how sweet you want the finished product to be
- 1 3/4 cups unsweetened almond or soy milk
- 3 ounces semisweet chocolate, preferably about 60% cacao, finely chopped
- 1 ripe but still-firm avocado
- 2 drops green food coloring, optional (but fun!)
Wash the herbs (no need to dry them). Pour the milk and agave nectar into a large glass measuring cup, add the herbs, and stir to combine. Don’t be delicate—in fact, you want to bruise the herb leaves a bit to release their flavor. Put the measuring cup in the refrigerator and steep the herbs in the liquid for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, melt the chocolate chunks until smooth. (I like to do this in a glass bowl in the microwave in 30-second blasts, stirring after each blast. About 3-4 blasts should do it.) Pour the melted chocolate onto a small plate lined with foil and spread the chocolate into a rough circle that’s 4 to 5 inches in diameter. Freeze until firm, about an hour. Peel the foil off and chop the chocolate into small chunks. Keep the chocolate tin the freezer until the ice cream is ready.
Stir the herb-infused liquid, then pour it through a mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing on the herbs to release more liquid. Discard the herbs.
Pour about a cup of the infused liquid into a blender or a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Halve and pit the avocado, then scoop its flesh into the liquid. Process until smooth, then add the remaining cup of infused liquid. If you’re feeling frisky, add a drop or two of green food coloring. Yeah, it’s fake, but I’m shallow and into the way things look. Process until fully combined.
Pour the ice cream base into the freezer bowl of the ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions (it took about 10 minutes of churning in mine). When the ice cream base has the same body as a Wendy’s Frosty (and we all totally know what that looks like, right?), add the chocolate chunks and let run for another 10 seconds or so. Remove the freezer bowl from the ice cream maker, scrape off the dasher, and fold the rest of the chunks in with a rubber spatula.
Scrape the ice cream into a freezer-safe container (a shallow metal pan makes for easy scooping later) and put it into the freezer for 1-2 hours, until the ice cream is icy and firm. Don’t panic! Scoop out servings and let them sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes return them to their creamy glory.
Sara Bir is a chef, writer, and food librarian. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Sara has worked at as a sausage cart lackey, chocolate factory tour guide, and pop music critic. She’s a regular contributor to Full Grown People and blogs at her website, The Sausagetarian.