If there’s one dish that signifies summer, it’s probably ice cream. Be it a simple bowlful or carefully balanced scoops piled high in a sugar cone, this is the stuff of bright colors and vivid flavors, perhaps a little messy but always fun. It’s an easy antidote to the heat that takes us straight back to childhood.
And though there are plenty of great ice creams to be found around town at specialty shops and restaurants, sometimes nothing beats a batch of homemade. Many classic recipes start with a custard base and require the use of an ice cream machine or some sort of churner.
A few weeks ago, one of my nieces texted me from Sacramento, curious about an ice cream recipe using just a handful of ingredients and no special equipment. Google “low maintenance ice cream” and you’ll turn up millions of recipes. No rock salt. No ice. No valuable counter or cabinet space given to equipment that might be used only a few times a year.
No-churn ice creams are actually pretty simple to make, and most recipes pull from a couple of basic methods. One of the most common methods out there involves whipped cream: you just fold flavorings into the cream and freeze. There are also recipes for something similar to granita, where an ice cream base is stirred as it freezes, slowly forming a frozen dessert.
For the whipped cream method, many recipes call for whipping a can of condensed milk in with the cream to sweeten it. Beaten together, the cream and milk have a velvety consistency, whipped to incorporate just enough air for an almost marshmallow-like texture. As for flavorings, you can add instant coffee or pureed fruit, nuts or spices, vanilla seeds or bits of crunchy toffee or chocolate chips.
For a simple stracciatella — an Italian dessert similar to chocolate chip ice cream — freeze the mixture until it’s almost hardened, then drizzle melted chocolate over it. The chocolate hardens almost instantly, forming shards that break as the mixture is stirred. A little liquor will soften your frozen creation while adding flavor, preventing it from freezing too hard. This is your canvas.
Another easy method is freezing chopped fruit and then just blending it in a food processor or blender. And with all the summer produce available right now, the choices are almost endless — stone fruit, berries, melons, you name it.
Recently, I got a flat of O’Henry peaches at the farmers market. Back at home, I froze the chopped fruit with a little sugar and pureed it the fruit in a food processor. I tossed the fruit with a touch of almond extract — it helps to round out the complexity of the stone fruit — in a food processor and pureed until the fruit was broken down and slushy. At this point, you could fold the fruit with whipped cream, mascarpone or even crème fraiche. Or try adding a little Greek yogurt — the lower water content gives the yogurt a rich creaminess that works well in frozen desserts — and it’s not quite so heavy.
For a dairy-free version of your frozen dessert, use bananas as a base. Like avocados, bananas have been used in both health-conscious and vegan circles for the creamy, custard-like texture they impart to smoothies, frozen desserts and other dishes.
Bananas pair well with many flavorings, and there are a number of banana-based ice cream recipes including chocolate, peanut butter, another fruit, even pretzels. (Depending on the flavor pairing, you might not even taste the banana in the finished dish.)
For a decidedly adult take on the dessert, pair the bananas with ground pecans, raw sugar, a little cinnamon — and some rum. You could serve it in bowls studded with bananas and flambeed, as a rum float, or in scoops piled high on a cone. Messy and fun. Just as summer should be.