A: Well, you came to the right person, because the one thing I basically have no willpower over (OK, fried chicken is right up there) is ice cream. Homemade? Even more irresistible.
First of all, ice cream makers are really great, but you do not have to buy one to make ice cream. One of the recipes I'm sharing can be made without a machine in a walloping six to 10 minutes.
This recipe can be made in coffee cans, large nut cans or similar containers. The easiest and quickest way to make it is in good, resealable plastic bags. It's low-tech, but it works!
If you want to branch out, get yourself an inexpensive, hand-cranked ice cream machine. You can purchase one for as little as $9 or $10 on eBay, or buy a top-of-the-line model that will last forever for less than $150.
Keep three things in mind before you buy one:
_ How much you want to spend.
_ How easy the machine will be to use. _ How often you are going to use it.
If you will be using it a lot, it's worth spending some money. If you will only dust it off for special occasions, you might as well go cheap. I will tell you that your kids will have a blast with an ice cream maker, and you'll end up with a better finished product.
More importantly, you will be able to make different styles of ice cream, as well as frozen custard, frozen yogurt, gelato and other frozen delicacies.
You mentioned using a sugar substitute, and another reason to buy an ice cream maker is that they are almost crucial for making sugar-free ice cream. They also facilitate folding in things like nuts, chocolate chips, crushed cookies or the candy to make my favorite flavor, chocolate mint.
All you need to do is slowly add these ingredients during the last couple of minutes that the machine is processing. (Large items such as whole cookies, small candy bars or chunks of cookie dough are best folded in after the mixing and churning so that they don't break up and clump.)
To simplify things (always the best approach for me), we are going to divide ice cream into two styles. The first style is categorized as egg-free ice cream. At culinary school, I was taught that this type is called Philadelphia-style ice cream. It is also sometimes called American- or New York-style, but for my homeboys, it's Philly-style.
This type of ice cream is delicate and rich yet easy to make, because it's basically cream, sugar and flavorings, and it doesn't require an ice cream machine. If you use one, though, it will incorporate more air, a sign of quality in the ice cream world.
The second style is categorized as custard or egg-custard ice cream. It's usually just called custard-style ice cream, but in France it is often referred to as French-style ice cream.
I could make a joke, but I don't want anyone disparaging the Philly style.
Starting with a custard base (which, by the way, is the same base used for flan, creme caramel, creme brulee and a host of other desserts) stabilizes the ice cream mixture because the egg yolks become an emulsifier when gently cooked with the cream.
This brings me to one of my pet peeves.
Most custard recipes instruct you to cook the mixture until it coats the back of a spoon. I always thought that was crazy, because it coated the back of a spoon to begin with. I like to say, cook custard until it is twice as thick as it was when you started.
That's a lot easier to do than to write about, I promise.
After it is cooked and cooled down, just put the custard into your ice cream machine, and soon enough you will have the richest, smoothest ice cream you ever tasted. Just don't admit that to the French . . . or to the guys in South Philly either, for that matter.
To make great sugar-free ice cream, all you need to do is follow almost any egg-custard-based recipe and substitute your favorite sweetener for the sugar.
Try some variations of your own with the recipe that I am providing.
Now we'll tackle the ice crystals. They are not a recipe problem; they are a freezer problem. If any ice cream has crystals after a stint in your freezer, the best thing to do is to melt it and remix it. This can be done by hand, in a food processor or, of course, an ice cream machine.
'NO MACHINE' HOMEMADE ICE CREAM
2 1/2 tablespoons superfine 10X
1 1/2 cups light cream
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup (more if needed) kosher
or rock salt
Ice to fill gallon-size freezer bag
1 gallon-size resealable freezer bag
1 pint-size resealable freezer bag
Pour the cream, sugar and extracts into a large mixing bowl and whisk until mixed well. Carefully pour the mixture into the pint-sized bag and seal. Carefully put the ice and salt in the gallon-sized bag, filling it half way. Put the pint bag into the gallon bag, seal it and place it in the freezer. Freeze for at least 3 hours. (After 3 hours, I like to remove it from the freezer and bags and whip it in a food processor or stand mixer with a paddle attachment to incorporate air.)
Freeze another 2 hours, or until firm. Makes 4 servings.
STEPH'S SUGAR-FREE CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/4 cups milk
Sugar substitute for the equivalent
of 1/2 cup sugar (a brand that offers
"1 for 1" substitution is best)
1 1/4 cups sugar-free chocolate chips
or shaved or crumbled sugar-free
3 egg yolks
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine cream, milk, sugar substitute and sugar-free chocolate in a large saucepan over low heat. Stir with a wire whisk until the chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth and silky. Remove from the heat.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks and the salt until thick. Very slowly, add the chocolate mixture to the bowl. Beat until well-blended, then chill completely for at least one hour.
Pour the chilled mixture into an ice cream maker and churn until thick. Cover and store in the freezer at least three hours before serving. Serves 6.
Chef Jim Coleman, corporate chef at Normandy Farm and Blue Bell Country Insert Club, is the author of three cookbooks and hosts two nationally syndicated shows - "A Chef's Table," noon Saturdays on WHYY (91-FM); and "Flavors of America," 1 p.m. Saturdays on Channel 12 and 4:30 p.m. weekdays on CN8. He and his wife, writer Candace Hagan, will answer your questions. E-mail ChefColeman@aol.com.