If It's Hot and You Know It

Guys! Is it really September? What’s up with this hot and sticky weather? The heat makes me so boola boola, sasparoola. You can have the chocolate, I’ll take vanoola.

Do you get where I’m going here? No? Need a hint? Ok — think ice cream. Think about how you love ice cream so much you scream for ice cream — you know, like they did back in the ‘20s when songs titled “Ice Cream” were really about ice cream. (Go ahead and search “Ice Cream” in iTunes and listen to the top results. No wonder I was so confused by Lou Bega’s “Icecream” when I first heard it at age 11) If you still don’t get it (really?!), scroll down that iTunes search page until you spot Fred Waring & His Pennsylvanians under the Artist column. Now listen to the classic summer anthem and try not to get “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream” stuck in your head for rest of the day. You can thank me later.

So I have a serious thing for ice cream. So what. Spring, summer, winter, fall, rain, or shine, few things satisfy me more than a freezing cold mouthful of super creamy vanilla ice cream eaten with a spoon directly out of the carton. Gimme some extra minty mint chocolate chip in the summer. Like my great grandmother’s routine piece of soggy buttered toast in a bowl of hot milk (but far less gross), ice cream is my cold, non-alcoholic nightcap. Don’t get me wrong — I’ll gladly eat ice cream any time of day, any time of year. I’ll even scream for all kinds of frozen treats, but good ol’ fashioned ice cream will always be my favorite. Here’s why: (and it’s not just because it has a really cool song to call its own)

Ice cream is the richest of all frozen desserts, with a greater than 10% and up to 16% milkfat composition coming mostly from cream. The higher the fat content (up to a certain point), the richer the flavor, smoother the texture, bigger the body, and better the consistency. In a basic homemade, custard-based vanilla ice cream, there are just 5 ingredients: cream, milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla. While cream provides most of the fat, milk provides structure-building proteins (milk solids), a good dairy flavor, and water (ice). Sugar also offers more than sweetness — it increases the freezing point of the churned, frozen product. A sweet ice cream is an easy-to-scoop ice cream. Last but not least are our egg yolks, otherwise known as the emulsifiers, which distribute air and milkfat droplets and thereby make the texture velvety smooth.

I’ve tried frozen yogurt and sherbet, but these leaner, sweeter variations lack the decadence I desire and sometimes deserve. Sorbet, which forgoes any milk or cream altogether, is in a league of its own, and semifreddo’s yummy if you’re in the mood for what’s basically frozen whipped cream. Okay, so I admit gelato that is an acceptable alternative. As ice cream’s lower fat, sweeter, but denser brother, I accept it as second-best, but at the end of the day it’s that spoonful of simple vanilla ice cream that soothes my day-worn body before retiring to bed.

Simple Vanilla Ice Cream

This is a simple and beautiful vanilla base – feel free to doctor it up as you see fit (i.e. chocolate chips, crushed cookies, fresh mint etc…)…

Yield: about 1 quart
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop (Ten Speed Press) by David Lebovitz

1 cup whole milk
A pinch of salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Set up an ice bath by placing a 2-quart bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice and water. Pour the cream into the bowl and put a strainer over the top of the smaller bowl.

2. In a saucepan, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk with a paring knife, add the salt, and heat the milk mixture to a simmer.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Gradually ladle some of the hot milk into the yolks to temper, whisking constantly as you pour. Scrape the warmed yolks and milk back into the saucepan.

4. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a ladle and scraping the bottom, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of the ladle. Do not overcook or the eggs will curdle!

5. Strain the custard into the heavy cream. Stir over the ice until cool, add the vanilla extract, then refrigerate to chill thoroughly.

6. Freeze the custard in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a freezer container and store in the freezer until hard.