Sweet on Ice Cream: Start simple and you’ll find it’s a piece of cake

The town I grew up in had a soda fountain at the pharmacy. It was a place where old men drank their coffee, and kids had their ice cream. My first memory of rainbow sherbet was at that very counter. It could be my imagination, but the colors seemed brighter that day as I spooned every bite of the vibrant pink, coral orange and lime green sherbet into my mouth. I’m sure if we think about it, we all have similar memories of ice cream that take us back to years long gone.

One of my favorite childhood memories involves ice cream. Childhood summers in North Carolina meant homemade ice cream to beat the heat. A couple of times each year, that dusty old ice cream maker would make its way out of the basement and onto the back porch. Dad would go buy ice and rock salt while my mother would whip up some ice cream mix in the kitchen. My brother and I waited. It always seemed to take so long as that noisy motor transformed sweet milk into something so sublime. When the ice cream was finally finished, I can remember exactly how that metal chamber looked as it was pulled out of the salty ice. I’m quite sure the pale yellow pages of the instruction book would’ve told us that the churned ice cream should be placed in the freezer until firm, but how could we wait? It was hot outside, and the ice cream was all we could think about.
Perhaps I was destined to grow up and make ice cream professionally. Like all of the homemade ice cream I grew up with, my recipes are quite easy, and use the best ingredients I can find. Although my flavors sometimes get a little more complicated than the vanilla and peach we often made, I don’t forget the foundations that were put in place all those years ago.

People often ask what kind of ice cream maker I recommend for home use. Without spending a small fortune, the Cuisinart Classic ice cream maker is my top recommendation. This popular appliance is even made to look like an old-school ice cream maker that would require ice and rock salt.

You will find two ice cream recipes here. I call them Ice Cream Then and Now. The vanilla ice cream is an untouched recipe that I had growing up. By definition, it is probably more like an ice milk and it’s easy to throw together. The second, Chocolate Cake Ice Cream, is an adapted version I make today. The main difference is that the “then” recipe has less egg and relies on condensed milk for some of its sweetness. Chocolate Cake Ice Cream is a better choice for making and churning ahead of time, while the original recipe is best eaten as soon as the motor stops.

For anyone who hasn’t made their own ice cream before, the vanilla ice cream recipe is best for beginners. The chocolate cake one can seem a bit daunting. The biggest mistake you can make is cooking the custard too long or too quickly.

You want to cook it in a saucepan with a thick bottom over medium heat, and swirl it constantly with a wooden spoon. Once the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, I strain it into a bowl suspended over ice water so that it stops cooking and chills faster. With a little practice, you’ll be making ice cream like a pro.

Years later in my adult life, the town pharmacy outgrew that old storefront and moved just down Main Street and into the old post office. In keeping with the tradition, this one had a soda fountain where a new generation of children would have their first taste of something cold and creamy.

Whether or not I’ve lived here long enough to be considered a St. Louisan, you’ll find me in line at the frozen custard stand this summer just like everyone else, destined to get my hands on something frozen to cool off with, not unlike the days of soda-fountain rainbow sherbet and ice cream on the back porch.

Mathew Rice is the pastry chef at Niche Restaurant and Veruca Bakeshop and Cafe. He has a passion for all things sweet and often eats dessert first.