Ice Cream: Buy It vs. Make It
Becoming lactose intolerant in my old age has meant giving up a lot of things, but I find I can get used to giving up anything — except ice cream.
San Francisco is home to a burgeoning bunch of specialty ice cream places with weird, fantastic flavors. Humphry Slocombe features “secret breakfast,” which is bourbon and cornflakes, and is out of this world. Smitten’s current seasonal menu includes peach-ginger. Bi-Rite Creamery has a line around the block, at all times, for flavors like honey-lavender. Stalwart Mitchell’s made its name with flavors like Kahlua mocha cream. Sure, each of these places sometimes features a sorbet or a stray vegan option, but, well … yawn.
It makes me want to scream. According to a recent New York Times article by none other than my beloved food-boyfriend Mark Bittman, 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant, including 75 percent of all Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, and Jews — and 90 percent of all Asians! That’s a lot of gassy, bloated heartburn and discomfort glaring enviously at the Smitten’s hordes. Where’s the justice? Where’s the ice cream for the rest of us?
I decided this would be the Summer of Ice Cream Making. My stepson had been craving one of those DIY Industrial Design Ice Cream Balls, so this seemed like as good of time as any to acquire one. It was fun and great for an outdoor barbecue, but it wouldn’t do for everyday ice cream making — it leaks a little and requires a lot of concentrated rolling between several siblings (and a bag of supermarket ice, not just what you have in the freezer). Still: FUN. But for my own experimentation, I scoured Craigslist, where I found a remarkable number of never- or rarely used ice cream makers (which in itself might be a sign, right?). And so we got to work.
There’s a tremendous amount of effort required. I’d say this is analogous to knitting your own sweaters even though you could, technically, buy your own. Sometimes you really want to do something as a hobby, or have a family activity that takes up a hot summer afternoon. You’ve got to find the right raw materials, pick the recipes that toot your horn, and with that ball, you’ve gotta convince the kids to keep rolling that thing around—not for the faint of heart. Plus, you have to find the ingredients. And really, if you can get soy milk or soy half-and-half, you can get a pretty nice array of store-bought soy ice cream. You’ve got to really want the weird stuff.
If you’re making “special needs ice cream,” you’re going to be in for not just the ice cream maker ($25 at the cheapest), but the ingredients, which are fussy. For instance, you can get soy milk for as little as 6 cents an ounce, and I found Silk Soy Creamer on sale for 4 cents an ounce — but you have to have access to a Whole Foods or similar. (Any of my readers order this stuff in bulk? How does that work for you?)
But hey, if you’re just using regular old milk, you’re saving quite a bit; the rest depends on your specialty ingredients — vanilla extract, peppermint extract, candied ginger, rose water … how creative are you going to get?). A gallon of whole milk or heavy cream runs from 3 cents an ounce (for the milk) to 24 cents an ounce (for organic cream). Ben and Jerry’s runs about 21 cents an ounce. You’ll come out ahead most of the time, unless you’re super-fancy.
Errrrgh. I don’t take a lot of time perfecting recipes. I pride myself on being able to throw things together and have them be awesome, if not always what was planned. But ice cream takes finesse and effort.
And oh goodness, do not think for a second that you’re going to get low-fat this-and-that and create delicious concoctions that live up to the artisan flavors people line up for. My first batch tasted like the watery, frosty low-fat wintergreen “ice milk” my mom used to get in the ’70s. My second batch was much better, because I used the soy creamer instead of milk, but it took a lot of work to get something worth boasting about.
Buy it. Unless you love a challenge, which I clearly do. But this is not easy as pie (crust).
What’s the verdict? Check out all our Buy It vs. Make It comparisons!