Cocoa Ice Cream |
with xanthan gum

Cocoa Ice Cream | with xanthan gum

November 9, 2021

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© 2022 Biterkin

For this Cocoa Ice Cream, you need five ingredients: cocoa powder, milk, cream, sugar and xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a stabiliser that thickens the ice cream mixture, creating ice cream with a lovely body that churns beautifully, melts uniformly during serving, and keeps well in the freezer.

Xanthan gum is not the only gum available on the market; other gums are also available, e.g. carob gum and locust bean gum. Each gum plays a different role in ice cream making, so they are usually combined to achieve the desired texture. The problem is that most are hard to find and can be rather expensive. So instead of buying and storing 2-3 different kinds of gums, you can use the one which, even on its own, gives a terrific mouthfeel: xanthan gum.

Why xanthan gum? Well, it is easy to find in speciality stores. It also works well on its own (no other gums are needed). Furthermore, you do not need to apply heat to it, which means no cooking over the stovetop, so it is also the easiest to use.

The cocoa powder you use determines the flavour of this cocoa ice cream. If you have a favourite one for baking, use this one. If not, a general rule of thumb is that the darker the colour of the cocoa powder, the richer the flavour of this ice cream will be. However, I have tested it with various types of cocoa powder, from cheap to expensive and from raw to Dutch-processed; and each batch was utterly delicious, with its own flavour tones.

The Biterkin tricks for a perfect Cocoa Ice Cream with xanthan gum:

Here is are two tricks in the making of this cocoa ice cream, which take it to the next level.

You can replace regular sugar with good-quality raw cane sugar, such as Demerara or Turbinado, which are very aromatic, thanks to their natural content in molasses and have an earthy, slightly caramelised aroma.
By replacing regular sugar with raw cane sugar like the above, you boost the chocolate flavour of the ice cream, creating the ultimate chocolate ice cream experience.
Choose good-quality raw cane sugar, one which smells divine when you sniff it. The best Demerara sugar is known to originate from the island of Mauritius, so check the label for the origin.

When using xanthan gum for ice cream making, you need to bring the ice-cream mixture to the right temperature (appr. 55ºC/131ºF) before adding the gum. That is the ideal temperature for the gum to dissolve effectively without clumping.

While it is good to have a thermometer, it is only natural that you may not have one at home. For this reason, I have developed a simple method, which uses the laws of physics to guarantee that you bring the liquid to the right temperature before adding the gum.

How does it work? To bring a mixture to the desired temperature, you need to combine two mixtures of the right amount and the right temperature. There are two standard temperatures of a liquid that you do not need a thermometer to measure. By standard, we mean that they are always the same:

  1. the one is the boiling temperature of a liquid, which is always appr. 100ºC; 212ºF. When we say boiling, we mean full boil. 
  2. the other is the temperature of a liquid cold from the fridge; that is appr. 4ºC; 39ºF (assuming that the refrigerator functions as it should).

What you do, is bring the milk and sugar to a full boil and then combine it with the heavy cream, which is cold and straight out from the fridge. By doing so, the mixture immediately reaches appr. 55ºC/131ºF; you then sprinkle the xanthan gum and blend for two minutes to fully hydrate. That works every time, and it is an easy way to use xanthan gum without a thermometer.

Note: if you live at a high altitude up to 6000 ft (1850 mtr.), you can still use this method as xanthan gum is quite forgiving. A minor differentiation in the boiling mixture will not affect the outcome. If you live at an altitude higher than that, you’d better use a thermometer to bring the milk to the desired temperature (appr. 55ºC/131ºF), sprinkle the xanthan gum and blend to hydrate before adding the cold cream.

The ingredients:

This is what you will need:

Every ingredient plays a vital role in the recipe. Do not attempt to reduce or replace anything; everything is there for a reason. Look out for these:

The recipe at a glance:

This is a quick overview of the recipe. If you are new to ice cream making, do read the recipe before proceeding. 

Note that the colour of your ice cream mixture depends on the cocoa powder you will use, so its hue may differ from that of the photos.

Cocoa Ice Cream | with xanthan gum
Ingredients:

For best results, use a digital kitchen scale and measure the ingredients directly into the utensils, as you proceed with the recipe. 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:

1 cup (US) = 235 ml

– for cocoa powder: first sift the cocoa powder into a bowl, then measure by gently taking a spoonful at a time from the sifted cocoa powder and adding it to the measuring cup. Cocoa powder should be freshly sifted to be measured right. I am pretty aware that if you google how much cocoa powder is 60 gr; 2.1 oz, it will give you a different cup measurement than the one provided in the recipe, but the google results can be totally off, depending how clumpy your cocoa powder is. So, after many trials and errors, I have found that the most reliable way to measure cocoa powder by volume cups is this: sift, then measure while freshly sifted.

– for liquid ingredients: make sure that you thoroughly scrape with a rubber spatula the cup every time you measure something and empty it.

Any unsweetened cocoa powder will do. 

If you have a favourite unsweetened cocoa powder, then use this one in this recipe, as its flavour will really shine in this ice cream. If not, use as your guide the cocoa’s colour and its aroma: a deep brown colour and a lovely cocoa aroma when you smell it, are proof that the final ice cream will have an amazing cocoa flavour.

Important: only use unsweetened cocoa powder. The term “unsweetened” means that it only contains cocoa powder, so check the label if there are any other ingredients listed. If there is sugar (sucrose) or any other sweeteners listed in the ingredients, do not use it for this recipe, it will affect its outcome. Exception: if in the ingredients list you see the  words “acidity regulators” or “potassium carbonate”, these are not sweeteners;  these indicate that the cocoa powder has been alkilized (Dutch-processed); this kind of cocoa powder is still unsweetened and perfectly ok to use.

If you want to know more on cocoa powder to help you choose before buying. then read below:
There are three types of unsweetened cocoa powder available at the grocery stores: Dutch-processed, raw cacao and natural cocoa powder. The difference between them lies in the way they have been processed, which impacts their colour and their flavour:
  • Dutch-processed cocoa powder is cocoa powder which has been treated with an alkali to neutralise its acidity. Although it is the most processed type of cocoa powder, it is for a good reason: Dutch processed cocoa powder is, hands down, the best type of cocoa powder to use for this ice cream recipe. It gives the richest possible flavour notes of cacao to the ice cream and an intriguing, deep, brown colour. Words written on the packaging: Dutch-processed, alkalized. Another indicator that the cocoa powder is Dutch-processed is that in the ingredients list on the packaging the words “acidic regulator” or “potassium carbonate” exist along with the cocoa powder. Hint: the world’s top cocoa powder brands are actually Dutch-processed.
  • Raw cacao powder is the least processed of all types of cocoa powder. It has a very light brown colour and is slightly acidic; it is flavour is, well, natural and not as rich as that of Dutch-processed cocoa powder. Raw cacao powders are usually the  organic brands and their quality is sublime, but the cocoa flavour in the final ice cream, as well as its colour, are on the light side. Words you will see written on the packaging: natural, raw, organic, cacao (not to be confused with cocoa).
  • the most commonly available type of cocoa powder at the grocery’s store is natural cocoa powder. The term natural only means that it is not treated with an alkali, like Dutch-processed cocoa powder is, but it is still more processed than raw cacao powder. The word “natural” may appear on the label or somewhere on the packaging. This type of cocoa powder gives the least rich flavour of all, in comparison to the other two types of cocoa powder. Words you will see on the packaging: natural, 100% cocoa (especially in the ingredients).

Comparison apart, I have made ice cream with all three types of cocoa powder and in a variety of price range, from the cheapest to the most expensive and each batch was delicious. So use the above information as a guideline to fit your own taste and pocket and rest assured that no matter which one you will choose, everyone will love it.

If you find the above descriptions confusing, you can simply judge a cocoa powder by its colour and aroma:

  • when the cocoa powder is dark in colour and rich in its aromatic tones, it gives a richer cocoa flavour and colour to the ice cream (a dark brown hue, means that it is actually Dutch-processed cocoa powder a.k.a. alkalized)
  • if it has a light brownish hue, it is still aromatic but just a tad acidic and results to a sharper flavour and lighter brown colour in the final ice cream (when it is has a very light brown hue, it is actually natural cocoa powder; or raw cocoa powder, if it is organic)

You can choose either of the two and still have a stellar ice cream. 

If you are an ice cream making geek, you will also be interested to know that you can use both cocoa powder classified as “type 10/12” (which contains 10-12% fat) and “type 22/24” (which contains 22-24% fat). These two types, which are the most common available, are both suitable for this recipe.

You can use regular sugar (white granulated sugar) or a good quality raw cane sugar such as Turbinado or Demerara, which enhances the cocoa flavours.

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. Not suitable either is honey or other liquid sweeteners, natural or artificial, because in ice cream making they behave differently than sugar and their quantities should be adapted before using them in this recipe.

Use heavy cream with 35-40% fat percentage. It should be of pourable consistency. 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. Just check the ingredients, for it should contain no sugar (or other sweeteners).

You can combine double cream with whole milk and use this instead of heavy cream in this recipe. For 500 gr (17.6 oz.) heavy cream, you will need:

  • 350 gr double cream (12.3 oz.) (with 50% fat)
  • 150 gr/ml whole milk (5.3 oz.) (3.5% fat) *

How to use: put the double cream in bowl, then pour in the milk, a little at a time, stirring smoothly with a rubber spatula until just incorporated. You need the cream to be smooth and preferably with a pourable consistency. Resist the urge to  whisk, as it may turn into whipped cream.

This will make a “heavy cream” with around 36% fat, perfect for this cocoa ice cream. Proceed with the recipe, just as if you had the 500 gr (17.6 oz.) heavy cream needed. 

* Note that these 150 gr milk (5.3 oz.) are additional to the 350 gr milk (12.3 oz) asked in the recipe. This means that you will need in total 575 gr; milk (20.3 oz.), from which:

  • 425 gr (15 oz.) are for the recipe; and
  • 150 gr (5.3 oz.) are to mix with the double cream and make heavy cream

You can find xanthan gum in speciality shops, health food stores and online. It should contain only xanthan gum and no additional ingredients. 

You can adjust the quantity of the xanthan gum in the recipe to your liking, depending on the texture you want to achieve:

  • To slightly stabilise the ice cream without affecting its texture and mouthfeel much, use 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum and decrease the sugar by 15 gr/0.7 oz.
  • To create a firmer texture, which is slightly stretchy and has a lovely mouthfeel, use 3/4 teaspoon, as given in the recipe. 
  • For a stretchy texture similar to Booza/Salep ice cream, use 1 teaspoon xanthan gum and increase the sugar in the recipe by 15 gr; 0.7 oz.

A flexible rubber spatula is useful for scraping residues which would be otherwise left behind in bowls, saucepans etc. Those residues may seem minor, but they are important for the balance of the recipe. So get a rubber spatula and scrape each time you change an utensil.

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

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.

If you intend to transfer the ice cream to a container to store the ice cream, put this container in the freezer well ahead of time, too; this will prevent the ice cream from melting upon contact with it.

Step 1: Make the ice cream mixture

Set up the blender: if your blender needs to be assembled, have it set up and ready to use. 

We will be blending boiling milk into the blender, so make sure that the blender jug is heatproof and can work with 600 ml of hot liquid.

Alternatively, use an immersion blender and a deep heatproof bowl.

Pour the heavy cream (300 gr ; 10.6 oz.; 1 and 1/4 cup) into a jug/bowl and put in the refrigerator to keep cold. 

Sift the cocoa powder and xanthan gum: combine the cocoa powder (60 gr; 2.1 oz.; 1/2 cup) and xanthan gum (3/4 teaspoon) into a fine-mesh sieve placed over a small bowl. Sift and set aside.

Warm the milk with the sugar: in a medium saucepan put the the milk (600 gr; 21.2 oz.; 2½ cups) and  the sugar (200 gr; 7 oz.; 1 cup). Warm over medium heat, stirring often with the rubber spatula, until the sugar dissolves and the milk is hot and steamy.

Bring to a boil: when all the sugar dissolves, increase the heat to medium-high and as soon as it comes to a full boil (the first large bubbles which pop vigorously begin to appear on the surface), immediately remove from the heat and pour into the blender

When you boil the milk with the sugar, keep an eye on it to avoid boiling it for too long. Boiling causes water to evaporate; and if we let the milk boil for too long, the loss of water will disturb the balance of the recipe. The result? You may end up with a sloppy liquid vs. a fluffy ice cream after churning, as the ratio of the sugar in the final ice cream mixture will be more than it should.

Do not worry about it too much, though; just be mindful while the milk is warmed and as soon as you see the first bubbles appearing on the surface, count to 10 (as for 10 seconds) and remove it from the heat.

Add the cocoa and blend: with the blender on (medium speed), add the cocoa/xanthan gum mixture a tablespoon at a time, aiming for the centre of the blender to avoid cocoa getting stuck on the sides of the blender (no need to wait until each tablespoon of cocoa is fully incorporated before adding the next).

Add the cold cream: with the blender still on medium speed, pour the cold cream into the cocoa milk.

Blend for 2 minutes: blend for 2 minutes to fully hydrate the xanthan gum, then stop the blender to scrape with a rubber spatula any cocoa streaks attached on the sides and bottom of the blender. Blend again until no streaks of cocoa are visible and a nice, uniform brown colour is obtained.

Step 2: Strain and chill the ice cream mixture

Strain the ice cream mixture over a fine mesh sieve and into a bowl.

Cool it down: 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 in it, taking care that no water slips into it. Leave it to cool down for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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

Personally, I prefer the slow method, as during the refrigeration process the ice cream mixture matures and the flavours improve. However, most people do not notice this flavour improvement, therefore feel free to follow the method which is more convenient to you.
Another thing to consider in choosing the fast method is whether you have enough ice to fully submerge the ice cream bag.

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.

Step 3: Churn the ice cream

Check the ice cream mixture, whether it is thoroughly chilled, before churning: it should feel fridge-cold to the touch (or if you have an instant-read thermometer, it should read 4ºC–8ºC / 39ºF-46ºF).

Prepare the ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Stir: give a nice, thorough stir with a rubber spatula to the cold ice cream mixture. If the ice cream mixture is thick, stir it vigorously with the spatula for 1 minute to loosen it; this will allow it to churn for longer and to acquire a better texture.

ChurnWith the machine running, pour the chilled ice cream mixture through the canister and into the ice cream maker and leave to churn until fluffed up and creamy; depending on your ice cream maker, this can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes; (see below).

This cocoa ice cream will fluff during churning. It is ready when it looks mousse-like and fluffy. This could take anywhere from 30-60 minutes, depending on your ice cream maker.

To evaluate if it’s ready, lift a spoonful; it should 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 only after it sets 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 turning grainy.

Step 4: Put the ice cream in the freezer to set

Put in the freezer to set: before serving the ice cream or removing it to a container for storage, 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 to set. Setting time depends highly on the type of ice cream maker you use; see notes below for indicative times.

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

Homemade cocoa ice cream quickly hardens in the freezer, so depending on what you want to do with it after it sets, follow these guidelines:

  • if you want to serve the ice cream directly from the ice cream maker’s bowl, leave it to set until when you insert a knife into it, it has the same consistency/hardness all the way through to the bottom. This can take anywhere from 1-4 hours. After this you can serve it immediately. If you do not want to serve it right way, transfer the freezer bowl to the refrigerator until serving-you can leave it there up to 1 hour..
  • if you want to transfer the ice cream to another container to store it, leave the ice cream to set in the freezer (in its removable freezer bowl) for max 30-60 min., and then transfer it to the storage container. To prevent the ice cream from melting upon contact with the container, pre-freeze the container. Prefer a container which gets cold to the touch when frozen and does not break in the freezer (like pyrex glass or aluminium). Alternatively, if using a silicone/plastic/paper container, aim to work fast when you transfer the ice cream in it to prevent it from melting.
  • if you want to layer/swirl the ice cream or use it to fill ice cream moulds, do not leave it to set for too long, because it will become too hard to bend or fold. In this case, leave it to set until it is just stable enough to handle.

The rule of thumb with cocoa ice cream is to avoid letting it sit for too long in its removable freezer bowl, in the freezer during its setting stage after churning. Although, like all homemade ice creams, it really does need some time to set in the freezer after churning, it also needs to be removed before it becomes too hard.

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 in the freezer after churning, sets it and brings it to the right consistency, similar to that of an ice cream parlour’s.

If the ice cream stays in the removable freezer bowl for too long, it will harden and will be difficult to remove or serve.

Do not worry though, you can still make it scoopable by leaving it in the refrigerator to soften. This can take :

  • anywhere from 4 to 8 hours for removable freezer bowls which must be frozen before churning
  • 1 hour for aluminium bowls (these are the bowls from compressor ice cream makers)

(Note: the time given is indicative, actual time may vary depending on many factors, so do check it once in a while while it sits in the refrigerator).

After this, the ice cream will be easier to scoop and transfer to another container; or serve directly from the removable freezer bowl.

Storage and serving

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

Scooping: this cocoa ice cream, like all artisanal ice creams, freezes hard in the long term. Ice creams which contain cocoa mass tend to freeze harder than others; but you can always soften it to a scoopable consistency, by putting it in the refrigerator for one hour. 

If you have an instant-read thermometer, the perfect serving temperature of this cocoa ice cream is when the thermometer inserted midway through the ice cream, reads around -11ºC / 12ºF. At this temperature the ice cream is scoopable and with the most satisfying mouthfeel.

Use a rubber spatula: 

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.

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