I’ve always loved ice cream (who doesn’t) and knew that you could make it yourself but never understood how. When I was a kid I was at a park and saw a group of people turning a handle on some strange looking, open topped wooden bucket with fog coming out the top.
They were all having a grand ole time and upon closer inspection, I could see that the wooden bucket had a metal cylinder inside that was surrounded by ice. This was all very strange to me and I had not a clue as to what I had just witnessed. I remember thinking to myself, “well, that’s just one more mystifying thing that white people are always doing…” and put the scene out of my mind for the next 15 years. It was only after that time had passed that I learned of how homemade ice cream was made and then the memory came flooding back, “So that’s what they were doing, they were making ice cream!” I immediately felt sad because I also remembered how happy they all looked and it was something that I had never gotten a chance to experience in all of that time since. It was the same way I felt when I used to hear my grade school classmates from “well to do” families talking about Fenton’s Creamery in Piedmont, California, and how good the different ice creams were there.
I always wanted to go but we were too poor and didn’t have a car. It wasn’t until 35 years later that I took my mom there and found out for myself what it was that my classmates had been talking about. By that time though, my mom didn’t have any teeth left and couldn’t eat her hamburger, just the ice cream. She was so sad. It wasn’t the original Fenton’s restaurant either, that one had been burned down by some former employees. This was the rebuilt Fenton’s and I don’t know if it was as good as the original. It was then that I became determined not to leave this life without at least getting to experience for myself, what it was like to make your own ice cream. I put the notion firmly in the bottom of my “bucket list“, if you will.
I was shopping in my favorite Goodwill store at the time, in the Bayview, when I spotted this funny looking huge plastic mug sitting on the shelf. Because I am very curious, I picked it up and began to examine it carefully. When I turned it around, I saw a big graphic label stuck to the outside of it that read “Premier Donvier Ice Cream Maker”. Bewildered, I had to look at it for a long, long time to finally accept the label at it’s word. It had a loop handle like a mug, a clear, twist to lock type lid with a hole through the middle, a crank handle and a double plastic paddle that fit onto the crank handle. Finally, it had this open metal cylinder that fit into the outer plastic mug part like a sleeve. I looked at it, turning it around to every angle, trying to figure out just how the darn thing was supposed to fit together and then make ice cream. I was stumped, I simply couldn’t figure it out, even after standing there for ten minutes checking it out.
I don’t like being stymied and so, determined to figure this thing out, I bought it for ten dollars and brought it home with me. When I got it home it took me 30 minutes to finally figure out how to put all of the pieces together. Even then I had no idea how this metal plastic thing with a crank and paddles was supposed to make ice cream. I was disturbed and frustrated to say the least.
I now had what they call “Buyer’s Remorse” and figured I had foolishly wasted ten dollars. “Way to go Eldon, you Lunkhead, you and your optimistic bright ideas have cost you money yet again!”. I was mad at myself for not only wasting money on something so foolish, me being a 43 year old man and all, but for buying a cheapo ice cream “dream” machine that I was too stupid to even figure out. Worse, I could have used the ten dollars to buy a gallon of my all time favorite ice cream, which at the time was Häagen-Dazs®. I felt soo dumb. The Donvier sat on my shelf for six months collecting dust, abandoned and forgotten. Then one day I got a strong urge for some ice cream and said to myself, “you know Eldon, you could go to the library and research the name “”Donvier”” and see how that thing you bought was supposed to work, who knows, it might not actually be broken after all.”, even though I was convinced that it was somehow broken. How could such a cheap looking thing make ice cream anyway! I was determined however, not to remain ignorant, I don’t like being ignorant.
When I got to the library and finally got an open computer, the first thing I did was to put into the Startpage search engine the term “Donvier ice cream maker”. The first image that popped up was an exact picture of what I had bought displayed in all of it’s beige colored glory. I got a little excited, maybe I might be able to make use of the thing after all. It was then that I learned that the metal cylinder was actually filled with an ammonia solution and was to be chilled in the freezer before use. It all clicked then, I began to read faster. The instructions said that once the metal cylinder had been frozen for at least 8 hours, you could then place it into the hollow plastic holder and mix up whatever frozen desert you liked. Actually though, you need to freeze it for at least 24 hours. You could then make ice cream, sorbet, ice milk, frozen yogurt, frozen alcoholic beverages and even frozen savory dishes. I was amazed. Really excited now, I downloaded all of the operating instructions and ice cream recipes that I could find and headed home. I was going to make my very first batch of homemade ice cream at 43 years of age. Who says you can’t be a kid again!
The first thing I did when I got home was to wash the metal cylinder insert and put it at the very bottom of the freezer, the coldest part. My reading had told me that you would get the best results if your cylinder was as cold as could be. Once that was done, I printed out a recipe for Butter Pecan Ice cream (my favorite) and headed for Foods.Co. grocery two blocks away. Because it was my first time making ice cream, I decided to be ambitious and treat myself to the divine indulgence that can only be had from a custard based ice cream. A custard based ice cream is very rich and has a high butter fat content. It uses heavy cream (not the whipping kind) and egg yolks that are cooked at 170 degrees until a custard is formed. For the home ice cream maker, it is one of the hardest types of ice cream to make but the most rewarding when done correctly. The difficulty lies in cooking the egg yolk custard base slowly and at just the right temperature so that it does not curdle and get lumpy. If you cook it too fast or at too high a temperature, you will end up with scrambled eggs instead of a nice, smooth liquid custard base! After that, there is no way to fix it and you have to start over from scratch. Luckily for me, I had success on my first try and the Butter Pecan ice cream turned out smooth, and delicious!
The ingredients that I used were as follows;
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cupa granulated raw sugar
- half cup packed brown sugar
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 whole organic vanilla beans
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 quarter teaspoon salt
- 1 cup pecan halves
- 1 cup almond slivers
I first beat the egg yolks in a bowl. I then split the vanilla beans down the middle and scooped out the seeds into the heavy cream, I put the bean husk in too. I then add the sugars and salt to the milk and mixed. When all of the sugar and salt was dissolved, I added that mixture to the cream and vanilla beans and set it to the side. Next, I browned the unsalted butter in a non-stick skillet and let it cool before adding it to the milk and cream mixture. Finally, I added the egg yolks last and mixed gently. The nuts don’t get added until the ice cream is already frozen in the machine.
I didn’t have a candy thermometer at the time so I just had to gauge by sight how high to turn up the heat. I put the custard base mixture into a stainless steel pot and slowly began to heat it, constantly stirring with a silicon spatula. I heated it up just enough to see a light wisp of steam waft up off of the surface of the liquid, I never let it simmer or boil. I kept lifting the spatula out of the custard to check for thickness and to make sure that the eggs didn’t start to scramble. After about ten to fifteen minutes of this, I took it off the heat and let it cool to room temperature while covered with a lid. Then, while it was still warm but not hot, I put a piece of Saran Wrap directly on the surface so that a film could not form. When the custard was finally cool to the touch, I put it in the bottom of the refrigerator overnight. This allowed the vanilla beans and seeds to infuse into the custard really well.
The next day, I got the frozen metal cylinder for the Donvier out of the freezer and put it into the plastic insulator (giant mug thingy). This next step is very important and if gotten backwards, can ruin your fist (or second or third) attempt at making ice cream. You have to put the paddle into the metal cylinder BEFORE you add the liquid base otherwise, as soon as the liquid hits the metal it will start freezing and you will not be able to set the paddle flush at the bottom of the cylinder after that. This will cause the paddle to sit on top of the frozen ice cream at the bottom and make it impossible to twist on the lid that holds the crank. Once you make this mistake, the only way you can fix it is to scoop out what you have already poured in and hopefully leave none behind. I have done this and it doesn’t work, the paddle is a precise fit between metal and plastic, if any ice crystals have formed it will set too high up for the lid to screw down. You will have to start over by washing out the cylinder and refreezing. You will have to refreeze because in just that short of time outside of the plastic insulator, it will have warmed up too much to properly freeze the ice cream. another 3-4 hours in the freezer will do.
So, I put the paddle in and then uncovered the custard base, which was kind of messy. I then quickly but gently began to pour the base into the cylinder around the paddle, I poured gently so that the paddle would not be knocked out of center position by the liquid. There is a small round raised button at the bottom of the metal cylinder that matches a convex indentation on the bottom of paddle stem. This helps it to stay put. As soon as the custard was all poured in (it came to the very top), I quickly screwed down the plastic lid and mounted the handle crank on the spindle of the paddle, which was now sticking out of the top of the hole in the lid. As soon as I finished assembling the thing, I remembered what the first ice cream bucket that I saw in the park looked like when I was a kid, I instantly knew that I had done it.
Once assembled, you have to stir the paddle every minute and a half to start for about 2-3 revolutions, just enough for the paddles to scrape the inside of the cylinder and allow fresh liquid to contact the metal and freeze. After about five minutes the whole mixture will become slushy and you will begin to see what is starting to resemble ice cream. Now, you can relax and stir occasionally every 3-4 minutes for about 15 minutes more, or until the desired consistency is reached. The metal cylinder will only stay cold enough to make ice cream for 20 minutes maximum, that is why you want to start with as cold a liquid base as you can. You do not want to start off with a partially frozen base however, as you will end up with ice cube shards in the final ice cream and which will actually be more of a “snow”. The reason for stirring the ice cream is to prevent this from happening, while you are stirring you are breaking up the ice crystals and keeping the texture “creamy” or smooth instead of frozen. You don’t want to stir too much though, as this will cause the ice cream to become too soft and you will end up with a half frozen “soft serve” type of ice cream that you really could have bought at McDonalds, negating the trouble and expense of making something so common yourself. Also, the more fat content you have in your base, (eg. cream fat, butter fat and egg yolk fat), the smoother the result will be. It won’t get as solid as a base containing less fat, but the product will be more tasty and enjoyable.
I would say that the total cost of my one quart of homemade Butter Pecan ice cream was about $25.00. Truly, a gourmand’s indulgence! It was SOOO WORTH IT though. That ice cream was DELICIOUS, way better than any other ice cream I have EVER tasted. Better than Fenton’s Creamery, better than Häagen-Dazs®, better than Breyer’s (when they really were all natural), better than Ben & Jerry’s and far, far better than Cold Stone (theirs is mostly air). Not even in the same galaxy!
My proof of this is first and foremost, my own discriminating taste buds. Second, I gave a full Sundae glass to a female desk clerk who used to work here named Nicole, and she wolfed down the whole thing without even coming up for air once! She actually looked embarrassed afterwards. This may sound strange but, it kinda felt like we had just been involved in some very naughty type of sexual experience together AND ALL I DID IS WATCH HER EAT MY ICE CREAM. Before that moment I could never understand what Chef’s would mean when they said they really loved to watch people eat something that they had cooked. After watching Nicole absolutely lose all control eating my homemade ice cream, I now understand how truly powerful a food experience can really be. WOW! It actually made me feel a little dirty, in sort of a naughty kind of way. Like I had corrupted her or something but we both enjoyed it. On a different note, my mom kind of had a similar reaction (not like Nicole’s) when I gave her some. She was actually ready to fight me when I wanted to finish off the last of what she had left! I was truly, truly amazed. I will never again look at Chefs the same way. I understand now, the power of good food. Incidently, the last time I saw Nicole here over a year after that night, she actually asked me if I still made ice cream and when she asked me, it was in a seductive kind of way. I see now that food can indeed be like sex, no doubt about it.
My second attempt at making a custard based ice cream, I curdled the eggs in the custard. It produced an ice cream with small scrambled egg bits in it. I threw that batch away. The third time I tried, I just used straight Egg Nog because I read that you could do that and it seemed to make sense because I liked Egg Nog. Everybody likes Egg Nog, right? I gave that to a neighbor and then he threw that vile concoction away. Now, I just use Half & Half with plain old instant coffee and sugar. That makes a rather quick and tasty ice creamery frozen treat for not that much money, and not that much trouble. It is almost impossible to mess up too.
One day though, I will once again attempt to touch the hand of the Ice Cream God, and thereby become empowered to cause pretty young women to have multiple food orgasms once more. After all the eating is done, we will then talk long into the night about things we know and love, using ice cream as our inspiration.