Monday, July 7, 2008

We all scream for ice cream. part one.

Some fifteen or twenty years ago my dad had a student who was an ace cook - her specialty was fantastically elaborate cakes full of all sorts of good things, like a black forest cake made with fresh Bing cherries and whipping cream and mountains of shaved chocolate - and occasionally made ice cream for our potluck parties. It was one of those old-fashioned ice cream makers that you packed with ice, sprinkling the ice with rock salt and cranking the handle until it felt like your arm was going to fall off. Then someone else would take over and keep cranking until their arm got tired. Eventually the ice cream was ready, the barrel lifted, dripping, from the melting ice, the dasher removed from the ice cream, softer and milder than store-bought. I think one time it was peach ice cream, which I have never had anywhere else, but then peach ice cream should be home-made, eaten after a barbecue on a lazy summer afternoon. Hand-cranked ice cream made me think of The Great Brain, when the brothers would take turns licking the extra ice cream from the dasher. (I think one brother - the Great Brain - was charging their friends to lick the dasher, but I may have remembered it wrong, and I can't find my copy).

Then electric ice-cream makers became available, then widely available, then wildly popular. Still, I resisted. Did I really need to make my own ice cream? Did I really need another gadget next to the food processor, the standing mixer, the hand mixer, the cordless stick blender, the bread machine, not to mention daily standbys like the boiling-water dispenser, the rice cooker, and the toaster oven? Did I have room in the freezer for the freezer bowl, counter space for the machine? I continued adding to my Le Creuset collection, and shoved all thoughts of ice cream makers aside. Then G. started talking about all the ice creams she was making on what seemed to be a weekly basis. It was too seductive for words, and I started gazing moon-eyed at the glossy pictures in kitchen gadget magazines and polling people about their machines. And then I caved. It was my birthday. I wanted a present. What could be better than an ice cream maker, the gift that just keeps on giving?

Like a sleepwalker I went into Crate and Barrel yesterday and emerged about five minutes later with an ice cream maker. It was white and sleek and had a scalloped edge around its plastic base and removable cover. It looked adorable on my kitchen counter, and I couldn't wait to begin. I washed all the removable parts - the freezer bowl, lightweight plastic mixing blade, and cover - and put the bowl in the freezer. It would need to chill overnight; I still had to buy milk and cream and eggs, anyway. I went out to dinner and spent the evening thinking about how to use my new birthday present, the oval Le Creuset D. bought me (roast chicken, perhaps). It was not until the next day that I came home with everything I needed for ice cream and the fun could begin. In the interests of immediate gratification, it would have to be something simple - the salted caramel ice cream would have to cool overnight in the fridge - and so I turned to vanilla ice cream, the first recipe in the little instruction booklet.

Lazily I mixed milk and sugar in a bowl, added cream, a splash of vanilla. The freezer bowl (a double-walled bowl filled with some kind of gel that freezes solid overnight) went on top of the mixer base, then the dasher, then the cover. I flipped it on, and then poured the creamy mixture in through the feeding spout on top. It whirred away as I cleaned up the kitchen, contemplated dinner. Ever so often I would peer at the thickening cream; it stayed soupy for what seemed like forever, and then began to come together into something actually resembling vanilla ice cream. Half an hour went by, and it was ready. The ice cream was soft and sweet and creamy, fragrant with vanilla, a promising beginning. Next up: salted butter caramel ice cream.

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