Italian Crema Ice Cream | the custard version

November 8, 2020 | © 2020 Biterkin

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This is a simple custard-based ice cream recipe; its flavour is plainly creamy, the kind you will find in ice cream parlours under the name “Italian Crema”. We use just enough vanilla extract to cover any possible taste of egg but without giving it an intense vanilla flavour. Personally, I rarely have vanilla extract on hand, so, to flavour it, I use a good-quality raw cane sugar, such as Demerara instead of regular sugar. When the raw cane sugar has a beautiful aroma with caramel tones, it gives a lovely, subtle flavour to the ice cream, very similar to vanilla’s.

The word “custard” means that the ice cream contains egg yolks and cream which are cooked until thickened. Egg yolks, which have been used in the making of ice cream for centuries, are the miraculous ingredient which makes for a velvety ice cream; they also help to retain its lovely texture in the freezer. This recipe, unlike any other custard-based recipe you will find, uses a unique method to perfectly cook the egg yolks, which is super-easy and requires no thermometer.

Custard-based ice creams, made with egg yolks, stay perfectly velvety and creamy in the freezer and they have a perfect, luscious mouthfeel. 

 

The Biterkin tricks to a perfect Italian Crema Ice Cream:

When making custard-based ice creams at home, it is good to use an instant-read thermometer to check if the custard has reached the right temperature, which is around 80ºC/176ºF. This is the temperature at which the custard is thickened; also, at this temperature, the eggs are perfectly safe to eat. While it is always good to have a thermometer, it is only natural that you may not have one at home.

For this reason I have developed a very simple method, which uses the laws of physics to guarantee that the ice cream mixture is cooked to the right temperature. It is also the least labour-intensive one, as it does not require you to stand over the stovetop stirring until the custard is thickened. Instead, you only need to bring the dairy and sugar to a full boil and then pour the mixture onto the cold egg yolks, while whisking vigorously. It works every time, because by combining the right amount of boiling dairy with the right amount of fridge-cold egg yolks you have a perfectly cooked custard.

For this method to work, you have to make sure that:

  1. the ingredients are properly measured; it is important that the ratio of “cold egg yolks to boiling dairy” is right
  2. the egg yolks are cold from the fridge (4ºC; 39ºF), and
  3. you bring the dairy to a full boil (100ºC; 212ºF) and immediately pour it over the egg yolks, while whisking vigorously. 

This trick was born out of necessity. I live in Greece, where vanilla extract is either too expensive or too difficult to find. But I have discovered that by using a good-quality raw cane sugar, such as Demerara or Turbinado, I can get away without using any vanilla at all when baking or making ice cream. 

In order for this to work, the raw cane sugar you use should be of good quality. To evaluate the quality of the sugar, you only have to sniff it; it should smell divine.  In my experience, the best Demerara sugar comes from the island of Mauritius. 

What makes the raw cane sugar aromatic is its natural content in molasses, which gives an earthy, slightly caramelised aroma to raw cane sugars. This aroma is enough to cover the egginess in custard-made ice creams and give it this creamy desirable flavour which you could only achieve by adding vanilla extract. Of course, if vanilla extract is easier for you to find, then by all means you can use this instead.

The ingredients:

This is what you will need:

to show the ingredients of custard ice cream

Every single ingredient plays a vital role in the recipe. Do not play around trying to use low-fat versions of dairy. Sweeteners, such as stevia, or any other decreased-calorie sugars are not suitable either. Look out for these:

• Milk:

  regular cow milk, fresh, with around 3,5% fat. Do not substitute with light versions (lower fat) or non-dairy milk. Both the fat and the milk proteins are needed for the recipe to work. 

• Heavy cream:

  this could be anywhere between 35-40% fat. It should also be pourable, as a thick viscosity will get in the way of proper churning. It is ok to use cream which is suitable for whipping and/or ultra-pasteurised cream, as far as the fat content is right and you like its flavour. Again, do not substitute with light versions (less fat) or non-dairy cream. You need both the fat and the milk proteins that the cream contains. 

• Sugar:

  you can use regular sugar (granulated sugar) or a raw cane sugar such as demerara or turbinado. Do not use sugar substitutes, such as table sweeteners or stevia. Also, do not use confectioner’s sugar, it is not suitable for this recipe.

• Egg yolks:

  best practice is to weigh the egg yolks. If you do not have a scale, use only egg yolks from large eggs. 

• Vanilla extract:

  it is used mainly to cover the taste of the egg yolks, rather than to give a vanilla aroma to the ice cream. Prefer vanilla extract over vanilla essence, if available. As I mentioned before, I never use vanilla extract, as it is hard to get my hands on a good one. Instead, I always use a good quality raw cane sugar, such as Demerara to give a flavour similar to vanilla’s to the ice cream (see Biterkin tricks above)

The recipe at a glance:
to show steps 1 and 2 of recipe
steps 3 and 4 italian crema ice cream recipe
Italian Crema Ice Cream | the custard version
Ingredients:

For best results, use a scale and measure the ingredients directly into the utensils, when you need them.

Avoid weighing in one utensil and transferring to another, as this causes a small, but important loss of quantity, especially in liquids.

For cup measurements:

If using cups to measure the ingredients, make sure that you thoroughly scrape the cup every time you empty it.

Use regular cow’s milk, fresh, with around 3,5% fat.

Do not substitute with light versions (lower fat) or non-dairy milk, like nut milk. Both the fat and the milk proteins are needed for the recipe to work. 

You can use regular sugar (granulated sugar) or a raw cane sugar such as turbinado or demerara. If using a good quality demerara, with a lively aroma, you can omit the vanilla extract, if you like.

Do not use sugar substitutes, such as table sweeteners or stevia. Also, do not use confectioner’s sugar, it is not suitable for this recipe. 

For best results, use heavy cream with 35-38% fat percentage. It should be of pourable consistency. If you only have heavy cream with 39-40% fat, you can still make this ice cream, no adjustments need to be made.

Do not use lower fat versions. Do not use any kind of non-dairy cream. 

The number of the eggs given in the ingredients are only indicative, the actual quantity may vary. The only recommended and best practice is to weigh the egg yolks. 

Weighing the egg yolks is important, so that they will cook properly when you pour in the boiling cream in step 1. If the amount of egg yolks is less than that, they may cook and curdle when you pour in the boiling milk. The same will happen if the eggs are not cold from the fridge: if they are at room temperature, they may cook and curdle from the boiling cream.

However, if upon breaking and weighing the egg yolks you are just some grams (up to 10gr; 0.5oz is ok) away from reaching the desired weight, but at the same time you do not want to break one more egg, you can replace it with the same amount (in weight) of the leftover egg whites or any other cold fluid like some extra milk or cream. This way you will retain the balance of the boiling milk to cold eggs ratio, without compromising on the results.

A flexible rubber spatula is useful for:

-wiping the bottom of the saucepan when cooking dairy on the stovetop

-scraping residues which would be otherwise left behind in bowls, saucepans etc.

If you do not have one, I strongly encourage you to buy one, preferably a flexible one.

Fact: When you boil milk, it curdles.

But you can boil milk with sugar; just make sure that the sugar fully dissolves before raising the heat: gently warm the milk and sugar over medium heat, stirring often to ensure that the sugar is completely dissolved; then you can raise the heat and bring it to a boil. If the milk boils before all the sugar has dissolved, it will curdle.

Using a saucepan with a long handle in step 1 is useful for easily pouring  the boiling cream with one hand, while whisking the eggs vigorously with the other.

Bonus tip: put a towel under the bowl with the eggs, to keep it in place while whisking.

Instructions

Before starting, make sure that your ice cream maker is ready for churning when needed. This means that if it has a removable freezer bowl, it should be put in the freezer for the whole time indicated by the manufacturer, usually 24 hours.

Step 1: Prepare the ice cream mixture

Put the cold egg yolks in a large bowl, and whisk them lightly to break them down. Put them in the fridge, keeping the whisk in the bowl.

In a medium saucepan, put the milk and sugar. Warm over medium heat, stirring often with a silicone spatula, until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat to high and remove the egg yolks from the fridge. When the milk comes to a full boil (bubbles up vigorously), remove it from the heat, and immediately start pouring it in a steady stream into the egg yolks with one hand, while whisking them vigorously with the other. 

With a rubber spatula, stir well and thoroughly for one minute.

Important: You have to stir with a rubber spatula the custard while it is still hot, thoroughly scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, where residues of egg yolk lie. Those residues, which you cannot see them, are there and they should be incorporated into the rest of the mixture, while it is still hot. Stirring also makes the custard thicken.

Add the heavy cream and stir to combine.


Step 2: Chill the ice cream mixture

Prepare an ice bath by putting ice cubes and cold water in a large bowl and carefully nest the bowl with the ice cream mixture, taking care that no water slips into it. Leave for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

When it has cooled down, add the vanilla extract and stir well.

Before you churn it, the ice cream mixture should be thoroughly cold. To chill it, use one of the two methods below (click on methods to read more):

Strain the ice cream mixture over a fine mesh sieve, cover and refrigerate for 8-12 hours or up to 3 days.

Strain the ice cream mixture through a fine sieve and put it in a sealable bag. Place the bag in a large container/kitchen sink and fully cover it with lots of ice. Leave for 3-4 hours to thoroughly chill.

Before churning, check if the ice cream mixture is thoroughly cold:

  • an instant-read thermometer in the ice cream mixture should read around 4ºC – 8ºC (39ºF-46ºF). 
  • if no thermometer is available, check with your index finger; the ice cream mixture should feel fridge-cold to the touch. 

If needed, add more ice and leave until thoroughly chilled.

Strain the ice cream mixture over a fine mesh sieve, cover and refrigerate for 8-12 hours or up to 3 days.

Strain the ice cream mixture through a fine sieve and put it in a sealable bag. Place the bag in a large container/kitchen sink and fully cover it with lots of ice. Leave for 3-4 hours to thoroughly chill.

Before churning, check if the ice cream mixture is thoroughly cold:

  • an instant-read thermometer in the ice cream mixture should read around 4ºC – 8ºC (39ºF-46ºF). 
  • if no thermometer is available, check with your index finger; the ice cream mixture should feel fridge-cold to the touch. 

If needed, add more ice and leave until thoroughly chilled.

Step 3: Churn the ice cream

Always check that the ice cream mixture is thoroughly chilled before churning: it should feel fridge-cold to the touch. 

Prepare the ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. With the machine running, pour the chilled ice cream mixture through the canister and into the ice cream maker. 

Churn until the ice cream is creamy and has fluffed up. Depending on your ice cream maker, this may take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.

How to know when it is ready: the ice cream will expand and fluff up during churning. It is ready when it looks smooth and fluffy. When you lift a spoonful, it will be thick enough to stand on the spoon, but still be soft like soft-serve ice cream. If, upon lifting some ice cream with the spoon, a pool immediately starts forming on its edges, you will have to churn it for longer. In any case, if you feel doubts about the consistency, leave it for ten minutes more. But beware: at this stage, do not expect it to be like store-bought carton ice cream, for now it should be more like soft-serve ice cream. It will firm up and become like store-bought ice cream after 3-4 hours in the freezer. So stop the ice cream maker when it is thick and creamy, as described above. If you leave it for much longer, it will start looking grainy.

Step 4: Put in the freezer to set

Before serving or removing to a container, you have to put it in the freezer to set. Remove the removable freezer bowl (still filled with the ice cream), from the ice cream machine, cover with a lid and put it in the freezer for 3-4 hours.

After this, you can serve it directly from the removable freezer bowl or transfer it to an airtight container for longer storing.

Storage and serving

In the freezer for one month, covered well to protect it from absorbing the freezer’s smells.

This ice cream, like all artisanal ice creams, freezes hard in the long term. To soften it to a scoopable consistency, put it in the refrigerator for one hour. 

Questions and answers:

Q: Why should I chill the mixture before churning?

A: When churning with a domestic ice cream maker, your ice cream mixture should always be thoroughly chilled. Otherwise, your ice cream maker may not be able to churn the ice cream to its fullest potential, resulting in a sloppy liquid vs. a fluffy ice cream

Q: Why should I put the ice cream in the freezer right after churning?

A: Straight after churning, the ice cream has a soft-serve consistency and melts immediately upon contact with anything. This makes it impossible to serve or transfer to another container.

Putting it directly in the freezer for 3-4 hours after churning, will help it set and reach the right consistency.

Then you can serve it or transfer to a sealable container for longer storing.

A flexible rubber spatula is useful for:

-wiping the bottom of the saucepan when cooking dairy on the stovetop

-scraping residues which would be otherwise left behind in bowls, saucepans etc.

If you do not have one, I strongly encourage you to buy one, preferably a flexible one.

Fact: When you boil milk, it curdles. 

To boil milk with sugar, gently warm it over medium heat, stirring often to ensure that the sugar is completely dissolved; then you can raise the heat and bring it to a boil. If the milk boils before all the sugar has dissolved, it will curdle.

Using a saucepan with a long handle in step 1 is useful for easily pouring  the boiling cream with one hand, while whisking the eggs vigorously with the other.

Bonus tip: put a towel under the bowl with the eggs, to keep it in place while whisking.

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