To put it simply, ice cream is a physics project. Housed in a single scoop is a network of thousands of carefully placed ice crystals, air molecules, sugars, and milk fats—and it takes work to get them there. (There’s a reason you can’t just mix milk and sugar and throw it in the freezer.) Long before we were aware of ice cream’s molecular structure, our great-grandparents still knew what they could accomplish with milk, sugar, eggs, a bucket of ice with salt, and gobs of will power (and time)! Luckily for us, we can sit back and let the ice-cream machine do the heavy lifting. But our knowledge of what’s happening in the ice cream as it churns has given us further insight into how to perfect this iconic treat at home.
Watch: Peach Ice Cream
The Ice-Cream Culprit: Big Ice Crystals
These bad boys are what make an ice cream feel grainy in the mouth and somewhat watery to the taste. Large ice crystals develop when the water freezes slowly, while a rapid freeze creates small ice crystals that make a lusciously smooth ice cream. The faster an ice-cream maker can freeze the mixture, the better the texture will be. Industrial ice-cream machines do just this and their products are often much creamier than what you make at home. But there are a few tricks for preparing your ice-cream mixtures so it comes out as satiny as the professionally made stuff.
Chill Ice-Cream Mixture Overnight
This does two things: it helps your ice-cream machine freeze the mix more quickly the next day, and it enables the milk fats to better incorporate air as the ice cream churns (that’s a good thing).
Use Egg Yolks
Yes, there are recipes for ice cream that don’t have eggs in them, and those recipes often don’t require you to cook your ice-cream mixture. But frankly, unless you are using an assortment of fancy chemical stabilizers in your mixture, eggs are your best natural resource to stabilize the mix—not to mention the creamy richness they contribute to the finished ice cream.
Try Corn Syrup
Corn syrup has a different molecular structure than table sugar and it is less sweet. By substituting a few tablespoons of corn syrup in for a few tablespoons of sugar in your ice-cream recipe, you can cut some of the sweetness in your ice cream and create a desirable chewy texture.