By Gretchen McKay

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Ice cream desserts worth screaming about

Categories : Food

Summer ushers in many wonderful flavors and textures.

Plump, juicy berries. Farm-fresh corn that’s sweet and tender. Fat and wonderfully misshapen heirloom tomatoes that can be eaten right off the vine. And perhaps the most enjoyable of all, cool and creamy ice cream.

So beloved is this frozen mixture of milk, cream and sugar that there’s not just a monthlong party celebrating it (President Ronald Reagan in 1984 designated July as National Ice Cream Month) but also we get to whoop and scoop it up to our heart’s desire on National Ice Cream Day, which is on the third Sunday of the month. 

Ice creams are crowd-pleasers because they are a cool treat, especially when it’s hot and steamy outside. They also are easily portable, kid-friendly and relatively easy on the wallet.  From fruity to chocolaty to nutty to vegetal, they come in different flavors that tickle and satisfy just about any kind of taste bud.

Perhaps most important during a pandemic, ice cream provides stress release in times of uncertainty, says Katie Heldstab, co-founder of the Wilkinsburg-based Leona’s Ice Cream, which offers small-batch ice cream sandwiches and pints crafted with milk from local dairies.

“It’s so comforting to eat it,” she says. 

Even before COVID-19 jangled our collective nerves, the average American consumed more than 23 pounds of ice cream per year, according to the International Dairy Foods Association. July is the busiest month for ice cream makers, who churn about 1.4 billion gallons of ice cream and related frozen desserts each year. 

Ice cream cones, in particular, have been an American obsession ever since Ernest Hamwi, a Syrian concessionaire, thought to have scooped ice cream into a waffle-like pastry called a zalabia at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Chocolate and vanilla remain the two top flavors.

When summer sun beats down, nothing beats a visit to your local ice cream shop for a scoop or a pint of your favorite ice cream. But with many of us still wary of eating out, maybe it’s time to make it at home.  The process is relatively easy, and if you don’t get too fancy, you only need a handful of pantry ingredients.

You don’t even need an ice cream machine, which is good news for those of who didn’t think of owning one before the coronavirus pandemic unfolded in March. (Many of the most popular makers are in short supply these days on Amazon and in stores like Target, and it can be tough to easily find rock salt if you’re the type who likes to churn it by hand in a bucket with ice.)

No-churn ice cream requires just a can of sweetened condensed milk, two cups of heavy cream, a pinch of salt and whatever flavoring your heart desires, plus six hours in the freezer. How simple is that? Diana Nelson JonesThey’re screaming for ice cream — and staying a cow’s length apart

That said, the silkiest, most luscious ice creams start with a cooked custard base in which warmed milk is combined with cream, sugar and egg yolks. It can be intimidating because the eggs have to be tempered. Be careful not to scramble them when adding warm dairy. The mixture then needs to be strained through a fine-mesh sieve to remove any small lumps, and all this takes time.

However, it’s easy to get a hang of if you put your mind to it, and it can result in an ice cream that’s so rich and creamy that you don’t even need any toppings. 

What helps the process, says Ms. Heldstab, is chilling the base down really well in the fridge before adding it to the ice cream machine. Just like how a chili always tastes better the day after cooking, an ice cream base needs time to cure.

“If you put right into machine it’ll be grainy, and there’s not enough time for the flavor to meld,” she says.  

She suggests adding a shot of alcohol —  something like Bailey’s Irish Cream — to give it some body, a subtle flavor and make it more scoopable. 

“The alcohol prevents big ice crystals from forming,” she says, which makes the ice cream creamier and smoother.

Find a recipe that sounds good, she says, and then experiment to figure out what works best. Whatever you choose, always start with regular or low-heat pasteurized milk, ideally from a local dairy. 

Ms. Heldstab also likes to add a slurry made with a couple of tablespoons of milk powder and milk or cream to the ice cream base to improve the body. 

Perhaps the biggest tips of all, though, is to approach ice cream making with a sense of curiosity.

If there’s a particular type of tea you really love or a spice you find interesting, just steep it into the cream as you’re making a custard, and then strain it out before churning. 

“You never know what you’re going to stumble across” that’s fantastic, she says.

That, and remember that practice makes perfect. “And ice cream is not a terrible thing to practice,” she adds.

With that in mind, we offer recipes for three ice creams — classic churned vanilla, no-churn coffee and mint chocolate chip — which can be tucked between a pair of Leona’s snickerdoodle cookies for a decadent ice cream sandwich, scooped into a bowl and covered with hot fudge sauce as a sundae, or plopped onto a cone and covered with chocolate hard shell and nuts for a homemade version of the Nestle Drumstick. 

Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

Snickerdoodle Ice Cream Sandwiches

PG tested

These decadent ice cream sandwiches are made with cinnamon sugar-dusted snickerdoodles from Leona’s Ice Cream and a custard-based homemade vanilla ice cream I found in The New York Times. The cookie batter spreads a lot as it bakes, so be judicious when scooping it onto a parchment-covered pan.

Leona’s co-owner Katie Heldstab recommends letting the dough sit at least an hour or overnight before baking to allow the liquid to hydrate that flour. You also want to err on the side of a thinner cookie so it’s easier to eat, and be careful not to overload the sandwich with ice cream or it will squish out when you bite into it.

I used a 2-inch cookie scoop to create 3½-inch cookies, which I filled with 3 scoops of ice cream from a 1½-inch (40 mm) ice cream scooper. This recipe made enough ice cream for 8 sandwiches, with lots of leftover cookies.

If you add a splash of a neutral-tasting spirit (like vodka) to the cooled custard mix before churning, it makes for a softer, more scoopable ice cream as the alcohol prevents big ice crystals from forming. I added a couple of teaspoons of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Boy, was it good.

For ice cream

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

⅔ cup sugar

⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt

Seeds scraped from 2 vanilla beans, sliced in half lengthwise

6 large egg yolks

Splash of your favorite spirit

For cookies

1 pound 4 ounces (3¾ cups) all-purpose flour

3½ teaspoons cream of tartar

1½ teaspoons baking soda

7½ ounces (14 tablespoons) butter

1 pound 5 ounces white sugar (2¾ cups)

7½ ounces vegetable oil (just under a cup)

3 large eggs (or 4 small)

For tossing mix

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Make ice cream: In a small pot, simmer heavy cream, milk, sugar, salt and vanilla beans until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk yolks. Add about a third of the hot cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pot with the cream. (This technique, called tempering, prevents the eggs from scrambling.) Return pot to medium-low heat and gently cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (about 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). If you get little bits of egg in the custard, don’t panic; they will strain out

Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pushing the mixture with a rubber spatula to extract as much flavor as possible. Cool mixture to room temperature. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or overnight. Churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturers’ instructions. You can make the ice cream sandwiches directly from the machine (it will be soft) or store in freezer until needed.

While ice cream is churning/freezing, make the cookies.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, mix together flour, cream of tartar and baking soda, then set aside. Cover cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In bowl of stand mixer outfitted with paddle, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in oil, then add eggs and mix until combined.

Add dry ingredients in three batches, mixing until just incorporated and scraping sides and bottom of bowl in between each addition. This is to ensure no bits of the dry ingredients are left behind. If too soft to scoop, refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.

Scoop dough in rounded spoonfuls into balls. Toss into the cinnamon-sugar mix, then place 3 inches apart on prepared cookie sheet. Note: The cookies will puff and spread a lot as they bake, so scoop a smaller amount than you think you’ll need.

Bake cookies 8 to 10 minutes, until set but not too hard. Let cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before removing from pan.

To assemble ice cream sandwiches: Allow ice cream to soften just a bit. Place cookie on a cold surface. Spread with softened ice cream. Top with a second cookie, top side up. Press down firmly to distribute the ice cream evenly between the cookies.

Serve immediately or wrap sandwiches individually in plastic wrap, and store in freezer.

Makes at least 8 ice cream sandwiches, with 3 dozen cookies left over.

— Adapted from Leona’s Ice Cream

Mint Chip Hot Fudge Sundaes

PG tested

To make good ice cream without an ice cream maker, all you need is 2 cups of heavy cream, a can of sweetened condensed milk and your favorite flavorings. I used mint extract and mini chocolate chips to create mint chocolate chip. A splash of creme de menthe liqueur adds a light green color and keeps the ice cream soft.

The hot fudge sauce, a favorite from the Brown Eyed Baker, will likely be the best you have ever tasted.

For ice cream

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

2 teaspoons peppermint extract

1 tablespoon creme de menthe

Pinch of coarse salt

2 cups cold heavy cream

1 cup mini chocolate chips

For hot fudge sauce

⅔ cup heavy or whipping cream

½ cup light corn syrup or honey

¼ cup dark brown sugar

¼ cup cocoa powder

¼ teaspoon fine or table salt

1 cup semi- or bittersweet chocolate chips, divided

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

For sundaes

Whipped cream, for garnish

Maraschino cherries and crushed nuts, for garnish

Make ice cream: In large bowl, stir together condensed milk, peppermint extract, creme de menthe and a pinch of salt. In bowl of stand mixer outfitted with whisk, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold whipped cream into the milk mixture in two batches. Fold in chocolate chips.

Transfer ice cream mixture to a metal loaf pan, and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for at least six hours and up to 1 month.

Make hot fudge: In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt and half of the chocolate chips to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low or low (enough to maintain a low simmer), and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining chocolate chips, butter and vanilla extract, stirring until smooth. Let cool for 20 to 30 minutes before using (it will thicken as it cools). Store in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. To reheat, microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute until it’s pourable but still thick.

Assemble sundaes: Place 3 scoops of ice cream in a sundae cup or bowl. Spoon hot fudge on top, and garnish with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. Crushed nuts are optional. Serve immediately.

Makes enough ice cream for at least 8 sundaes.

— Adapted from browneyedbaker.com

Drumsticks With No-Churn Coffee Ice Cream

PG tested

Remember Drumsticks? They’ve been a summertime favorite ever since Nestle introduced the novelty ice cream treat in 1928. Tradition calls for making them with vanilla ice cream and chopped roasted peanuts, but this version pairs no-churn coffee ice cream with a mixture of chopped pecans and toasted almonds. Coated on the inside with the same chocolate shell that goes on top, the tip of the cone also includes a dollop of hot fudge.

The drumsticks have to be made in stages to allow the chocolate and ice cream to set, and require enough space in the freezer that the cones can stand upright, undisturbed, while the ingredients freeze. 

For ice cream

2 tablespoons instant coffee granules or espresso powder

¼ cup hot water

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of coarse salt

2 cups cold heavy cream

For chocolate shell topping

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

2 tablespoons refined coconut oil, or other neutral-tasting oil

12 sugar ice cream cones, or 6 waffle cones

Hot fudge sauce

Chopped pecans, almonds, walnuts or peanuts for garnish

Make ice cream: In large bowl, dissolve coffee or espresso granules in hot water. Add condensed milk, vanilla and salt and whisk until completely combined. In bowl of stand mixer outfitted with whisk, whip heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold whipped cream into the milk mixture in two batches.

Transfer ice cream mixture to a metal loaf pan, and cover with plastic wrap. Freeze for at least six hours and up to 1 month.

Make chocolate shell topping: Place chopped chocolate in small bowl and heat in microwave, stirring every 15 to 20 seconds, until melted. Stir the oil into the melted chocolate. You want to keep the sauce lukewarm while you assemble the cones; chocolate will harden into a shell within a few seconds when spooned over ice cream.

Assemble cones: Drizzle a few teaspoons of melted chocolate into each cone, and swirl it around from side to side to allow the chocolate to coat the inside of the cone. Turn the cone upside down and dip the top of the cone in the melted chocolate. Place upright in the freezer for 10 minute to set. (I used shot glasses filled with rice to keep them upright.)

Remove ice cream from freezer to allow it to soften.

When chocolate is set, spoon 1 teaspoon of hot fudge topping into the tip of each cone. Then, pack the cone with ice cream, and add a scoop on top. Return to freezer for at least 1 hour.

Remove cones from freezer, and working quickly, coat the top of each cone with the chocolate shell topping, letting any excess drip off. (I used a spoon but you also can paint it on with a silicon pastry brush.) Sprinkle chopped nuts on top, and return to freezer for at least 20 minutes.

Once they are set, you can store the drumsticks in a gallon-size plastic freezer bag for up to 2 months.

Makes 12 regular sized cones or 6 waffle cones.

— Gretchen McKay