Cold Treats for Endless Summers

By Jessica Maher;
Photography by Carole Topalian

With summer right around the bend, our minds wander to simpler times of swimming pools and flip-flops, as well as simpler food: grilled hamburgers, warm blackberry cobbler and homemade ice cream. Why not invite some friends and neighbors over for hot dogs and watermelon sorbetto?

I learned to make ice cream when I was nine years old, and there just wasn’t much to it. We used coffee cans, ice and a ton of salt, and were pleased to roll it back and forth for 30 minutes, producing a melty, milky, dreamy spoonfuls.

Now there are enough equipment options to satisfy even a professional pastry chef—I know because I am a pastry chef—and homemade ice cream is experiencing a lively resurgence. Friends who used to shy away from the responsibility of making dessert for company are now proudly juicing their own fruit for sorbet and making root beer floats with fresh vanilla ice cream.

Why wouldn’t you make your own ice cream? The equipment is affordable, the flavor is real and sumptuous, and you know what you’re eating.

The secret to making perfect ice cream is fresh ingredients. Most of the recipes listed here were made with raw cow’s milk—with a butterfat content anywhere between four and five percent—and organic, pasteurized cream, with a butterfat content of about 37 percent. Most store-bought heavy cream and whole milk will be similar to what I used, and no recipe adjustments are necessary.

Personally, I prefer a custard-based ice cream, but a Philadelphia-style ice cream, made simply with cream, milk and sugar, makes a lovely summer refreshment and is kid-friendly from start to finish, as demonstrated by our official kid tester, eight-year-old Lina John Breining. (See her making our mint chocolate chip recipe, above.)

In general, use the custard-based vanilla recipe as a base for rich ingredients, such as chocolate or nuts. Use the Philadelphia-style or egg-white recipe for the delicate flavors of herbs and fruit.

But think of these recipes as a foundation for creating your own frozen treats. You can add any number of ingredients to these standard bases without changing the general formula. Try summer seasonal choices such as plums, apricots, cherries, herbs, berries and pecans for ice creams and smoothies—and why not drive out to Fredericksburg for some of those floral-scented peaches, still warm from the sun? Use melons, berries and juices for sorbets.

Also, locally made Agasweet-flavored agave syrups ( ) are a natural and delicious alternative to granulated sugar—the sweetness is similar, but the glycemic index is lower.

Whichever you choose, have fun, and remember that anything made from scratch just tastes better.