For more than 30 years Gus Rancatore of Toscanini’s Ice Cream in Cambridge, MA has served up ice cream flavors, from bourbon black pepper to mango ginger, to his customers. But the ice cream evangelist in him is also a big proponent of going the homemade route. “It’s one of the few foods, like hamburgers and pizza, that Americans have a lot of confidence about in their tastes and judgment,” he says. Ice cream recipes abound, but there’s one important rule for serving what you make, Rancatore says: “I don’t want to sound like a cornball, but the best way to eat ice cream is with friends.”
In its most basic form, making vanilla ice cream involves whisking together sugar and vanilla extract, with equal parts milk and heavy cream. Let the mixture sit in your refrigerator for at least an hour; then run it through an ice cream machine. When it’s reached the consistency of something like soft serve, it’s ready. You can either offer it right then or put it in a freezer for 15 minutes to harden up.
Keep It Simple
Too often, Rancatore says, newbie ice cream makers get overly ambitious and aim to create hard-to-reproduce flavors like peach or strawberry. Instead, make it easy on yourself and try something like peanut butter or chocolate, or one of Rancatore’s own simple favorites, coffee. “Use instant coffee or espresso,” he advises. “If you want to tweak it a little, add chocolate chips, cookies, or cardamom.”
Vanilla ice cream is the most basic flavor you can make. But if you truly want to dumb down the process, skip the vanilla extract and stick with just the sugar, milk, and cream. Freeze it, and 20 minutes later, you’ll have what’s called “Sweet Cream.” “It’s very good by itself and works really well with fresh fruit,” Rancatore says.
The Warm-Up Act
Rancatore suggests that a bit of patience after bringing the ice cream out of the freezer brings rewards. “You want it to warm up a bit,” he says. “Really cold ice cream numbs the tastebuds. If you let it warm up, you’ll be able to better taste the vanilla or coffee.”
The Right Machine
Expensive ice cream makers make great wedding presents–and even better dust collectors. In other words, Rancatore says, there’s no need to spring for a $700 Italian-made machine when places like Target and Amazon offer really good options for around $60.
Top It Off
Although he’s a big advocate of homemade ice cream–“It’s so fresh, there’s nothing like it”–Rancatore says creating good toppings for the store-bought stuff is a good second option: “Slice up some strawberries, put some lemon juice on them, and spoon it on some Haeagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and you’ll be happy.”