Homemade ice cream can rival store's best

Creamy texture is possible but is can take some work

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On Father's Day, I picked a fight with my dad.

The argument was about homemade ice cream, and the fact that for all the rosy memories of us gathered around my father's grinding monstrosity of an ice cream machine, waiting for that first taste, the ice cream was lousy.

"I think my ice cream tasted pretty good," my dad said, fondly nostalgic.

"Ummmm," I answered.

Then I told him: The homemade ice cream I'd had (made by him or me) just wasn't worth it.

Soupy, overly sweet, icy, bland and dependent on a space-hogging appliance.

My thinking goes, if homemade ice cream can't top the creamy texture and rich flavors found in any decent supermarket, why bother? Let's face it, even Haagen-Dazs vanilla bean is still unimpeachable.

"When I was a kid growing up," says Jeni Britton Bauer, creator of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, "we'd make ice cream, and I was always the kid who just wanted to go down to Haagen-Dazs."

But a few years ago, after becoming a nationally recognized ice cream professional, Britton Bauer conquered the home ice cream demon, developing recipes based on the idea that the results had to rival what you can get in a carton. Two cookbooks later, she's still encouraging people to try it at home. Somewhere along the way, she roped me in too.

I grudgingly started what I considered to be my last run at making ice cream, with a classic custard formula: eggs, cream, sugar. It froze into a near-replica of the bland homemade ice cream I remembered. Next, I tried Britton Bauer's recipe, which relies on cornstarch, not egg yolks, to thicken, and adds insurance in the form of a dab of cream cheese. It acts like the mustard in a vinaigrette — not essential but a handy middleman between oil and vinegar. Or in this case, butterfat and water. I studied the chemistry of ice cream to figure out how to add flavors without upsetting texture. My 8-year-old can now explain emulsion and what it has to do with ice cream. In the end, we got chocolate that had more oomph than most store-bought versions. Our roasted cherry was a delicious taste of the farmers market, and a creamy lemon was tempting enough to be eaten late at night by the glow of the open freezer door, one unadorned spoonful at a time.

In the end, we'll always have Haagen-Dazs (and Steve's and Graeter's and Jeni's). But as my father said, "Really, making ice cream was just a fun project." That was the end of our argument; who can deny her dad a little fun? I can admit it.

You were right, dad. This time.

Sweet Cream Ice Cream

Prep: 50 minutes. Cook: 7-8 minutes. Chill: 30 minutes. Freeze: 4 hours. Makes: 1 quart, 8 servings.

From “Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts” by Jeni Britton Bauer (Artisan, $23.95). Make sure to freeze the canister from your ice cream machine overnight. This base can be flavored with the variations below.

2⅔ cups whole milk

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 ounces (4tablespoons) cream cheese, softened

⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt

1½ cups heavy cream

¾ cup sugar

¼ cup light corn syrup

Mix about 2 tablespoons milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Combine the remaining milk, cream, sugar and corn syrup in a 4-quart saucepan; heat to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil, 4 minutes. Remove from heat; gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Heat the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat; cook, stirring with a spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon zip-close freezer bag; submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.

Turn on the ice cream machine. Pour the ice cream base into the canister; spin until thick and creamy. Pack the ice cream into a storage container. Press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface; seal with an airtight lid. Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.

Chocolate: Combine ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, ½ cup brewed coffee and ½ cup sugar in a small sacucepan; heat to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil, 30 seconds. Remove from the heat; add 1½ ounces bittersweet chocolate (55 to 70 percent cacao), finely chopped; let stand, 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. To make the chocolate ice cream, whisk the syrup with the cream cheese and salt in Step 1. Then proceed as written.

Roasted cherries: Toss 1½ pints fresh sweet or tart cherries, pitted, with 1/3 cup sugar and about 1 teaspoon cornstarch on a rimmed baking sheet; roast at 375 degrees until cherries release some juice and it begins to thicken, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, add 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and crush with a fork or potato masher. To make cherry ice cream, add ½ cup crushed cherries to warm cream once it is removed from heat (end of step 2). Proceed with recipe. Serve the remaining cherries with the finished ice cream as a mix-in, topping or both.

Nutrition information per ½ cup serving (no add-ons): 340 calories, 22 g fat, 13 g saturated fat, 78 mg cholesterol, 34 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 126 mg sodium, 0 g fiber.