When I was a little girl, the doll Strawberry Shortcake ruled my world. I asked for strawberry ice cream and strawberry cake every year for my birthday. One year, I even had strawberry scented scratch-and-sniff wrapping paper on my presents.
Now that I’m older, I’ve given up dolls, but not my love of strawberries. I grow strawberry plants in my garden, and I eagerly anticipate plucking the sweet berries from them each June. At the top of my strawberry-loving list is ice cream.
My Ideal Strawberry Ice Cream
When I started the process of creating my ideal ice cream, I knew I wanted the texture to be luxurious and the color to be light pink. I wanted a rich strawberry-flavored base with visible bits of strawberry dotted throughout. For me, that means using a combination of strawberry puree and strawberries cooked into a jam, both of which get mixed into a custard base.
Start With a Vanilla Custard Ice Cream Base
Custards are made with eggs. Egg yolks contain lecithin, which are chains of fatty acids that make great emulsifiers. Lecithin helps the fat in the cream bind together, which creates a better emulsion and provides the rich, creamy, velvety ice cream texture I was after.
I first learned how to make this kind of custard ice cream from Skye Gyngell’s cookbook, A Year In My Kitchen, and it's the foundation of almost every ice cream flavor I make. My version differs slightly from hers, but not much.
The high fat content in custard pairs beautifully with tart, sweet strawberries. I just couldn’t let another summer go by without making my own.
How to Avoid Chunks of Frozen Berries?
The biggest problem with making strawberry ice cream is that fresh strawberries, which are mostly water, freeze solid when mixed with the ice cream base. You end up with large chunks of strawberry ice cubes in a sea of creamy goodness, and that's kind of a killjoy for me.
I set out to remedy this problem.
There are a few ways to keep strawberries from icing up when you make homemade ice cream:
- Get them drunk
- Cook them on the stovetop
- Roast them in the oven
Booze to the Rescue?
Alcohol, specifically a higher proof alcohol such as vodka, has a lower freezing point than water. When added to watery fruits like strawberries, it lowers the freezing point and prevents strawberries from becoming red ice cubes in your ice cream.
To try this technique, I cut one cup of strawberries into small pieces, tossed them with 2 tablespoons of sugar, and a 1/4 cup of vodka, and set everything aside for about 2 hours. Then, I strained off the liquid and added the strawberries to my ice cream base.
I found the alcoholic liquid leftover from steeping to actually be more flavorful than the berries (which was great in a cocktail!), but I wanted that strawberry flavor to stay in my strawberries. Also, I know a lot of people who don’t consume alcohol, and although the amount is minimal I really wanted to create a recipe that could be enjoyed by everyone.
So unfortunately, boozy berries were out of the picture for me. Though if you want to try this, you only need about a 1/4 cup vodka to 1 cup of diced berries. Let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours, or as long as three days. You can also experiment with the type of alcohol—limoncello, Grand Marnier or rum. The higher proof alcohol the softer your berries will be in the ice cream.
Cook the Strawberries?
There are pros and cons to both cooking the berries or roasting them in the oven:
- The Pro: Cooking releases water through evaporation and concentrates the strawberry flavor. You end up making a jam or sauce, which allows you to disperse the strawberry flavor throughout the ice cream.
- The Con: The flavor of the berries changes during cooking, and you miss out on that just-picked fresh strawberry flavor.
Making cooked strawberry sauce and adding it to my ice cream base gave me nearly everything I wanted in strawberry ice cream—a hint of sweetness to compensate for berries that might be a bit too tart, strawberry flavor throughout the ice cream, and larger pieces of berry for extra bursts of flavor.
But this ice cream, though delicious, still needed that fresh strawberry flavor.
Make a Strawberry Puree?
Once I decided making a cooked strawberry sauce on the stovetop would be a part of my recipe, I just needed to find a way to incorporate that fresh strawberry flavor.
I did this by chopping more berries, adding sugar, and pureeing them with my immersion blender. Then I combined the cooked strawberry sauce with the fresh strawberry puree and combined it with my custard. The result?
The strawberry puree increased the soft pink color and added that light, fresh flavor of berries picked straight from the garden. With a combination of cooked strawberry sauce and fresh strawberry puree, I hit my mark.
This final version was universally loved not only by me, but also by my husband and our children, who have a combined sixteen years of ice cream eating experience among them. I consider them astute taste testers.
How to Store Homemade Ice Cream
When homemade ice cream first comes out of the ice cream maker, it will be the consistency of soft serve ice cream. Feel free to eat it that way, but if you want a firmer consistency, transfer the ice cream to a freezer-safe container, press a piece of parchment paper over the top, and cover it with a lid. Freeze for at least two hours before serving; the longer the ice cream is in the freezer, the harder it will become.
How Long Will the Ice Cream Keep?
Homemade ice cream doesn’t have the stabilizers that commercially-made ice creams use, so it won’t maintain its creamy texture quite as long as something from the store. In other words, homemade ice cream will likely crystalize sooner.
Homemade ice cream is best eaten within a day or so, but in my experience, ice cream made with a higher fat content, such as this recipe, will store longer than those with a lower fat content. This recipe will maintain its quality for about a month. It’s still perfectly edible after that, but it might form ice crystals.
Can Frozen Strawberries Be Substituted for Fresh?
In this recipe, since the strawberries are cooked down or pureed, you can use either fresh or frozen berries. You still want the berries sliced or diced, so I would buy sliced frozen berries rather than whole, if possible. I would also thaw the berries before pureeing them.
No Ice Cream Maker? No Problem
You can still make great ice cream without an ice cream machine. Rather than pouring the mixture into a machine, pour it into a shallow container such as a 9x13 pan. Place it in the freezer.
Using a stiff whisk or a handheld mixer, mix it every 15 to 20 minutes, until the ice cream gets firm enough use a wooden spoon to stir it and is the consistency of soft serve ice cream. This breaks up the ice crystals, and you'll probably need to repeat mixing four or five times.
This no-churn ice cream won’t be quite as creamy as one churned in a machine, but it will still be delicious.
Want to Experiment With Flavors? Go for It
Add herbs like thyme, basil, or bay leaf to the berries. You can also infuse the cream with orange or almond. Anything is possible when it comes to ice cream.
More Homemade Ice Cream Recipes
- Cherry Ice Cream with Chocolate Chips
- Mint Julep Ice Cream
- Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
- Coffee Heath Bar Ice Cream
- Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream
Strawberry Ice Cream
- For the ice cream base
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped, or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Pinch salt
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- For the strawberry sauce and puree
- 1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut into small pieces (with roughly the diameter of a dime)
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Freeze the ice cream bowl:
Place the ice cream maker churning bowl, plus a separate mixing bowl large enough to contain your custard, in the freezer the day before you want to make ice cream. (Most manufacturers recommend that the churning bowl be frozen for 24 hours before making ice cream; the mixing bowl can go in while you are prepping the custard base.)
Warm the cream, milk, and vanilla:
Pour the cream and milk into a medium saucepan set over medium low heat. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod and add to the milk mixture, along with a pinch of salt.
Slowly bring to a gentle simmer, until you see small bubbles around the edges of the pan. Stir occasionally. This will take about 15 to 18 minutes. Remove from heat, and let the vanilla infuse the cream for 15 minutes. (If using vanilla extract, add it now.)
Combine the eggs and sugar with the milk:
In a separate bowl, beat the yolks and sugar together with a whisk until the mixture is thick and pale.
Place the milk mixture back over medium-low heat and warm to just below a simmer. The cream should be warm to the touch, and small bubbles around the edge are just beginning to form. (The mixture needs to be warm to temper the eggs in our next step.
In a slow, thin, steady stream, pour the milk mixture into the egg sugar mixture, whisking the entire time. Continue until all the liquid is combined. Don’t rush this; otherwise you will end up with scrambled eggs.
Cook the custard:
Return the custard (vanilla bean pod and all), to the pan and place it over low heat. Stir gently with a spatula until the custard thickens to the consistency of maple syrup, about 8 minutes. When ready, it will coat the back of a spoon, and if you draw your finger through it, the mark will remain.
Chill the custard:
As soon as the custard thickens, remove from heat. Remove the mixing bowl from the freezer, and transfer the custard to the bowl. Allow the custard to cool to room temp, then cover and place in the fridge.
This is now the base for your ice cream. It can be made one week ahead of time and kept covered in the fridge.
Make the strawberry sauce:
Place half of the sliced strawberries in a saucepan with half of the sugar and all of lemon juice. Place over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Stir occasionally and watch the pot, as the berries will foam up and could boil over.
After 10 minutes, lightly smash the cooking berries with a potato masher. Continue cooking the mixture, stirring occasionally, until the volume is reduced by half. This should take about 8 minutes. The sauce is ready when the syrup is a deep red, and thick like honey. Remove from heat. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
Make the fresh berry puree:
Combine the remaining sliced berries and remaining sugar in a blender or food processor, or using an immersion blender. Puree until you have a thin sauce. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
Churn the ice cream:
Remove vanilla pod from the cooled custard base. Stir in the cooled strawberry sauce and fresh strawberry puree.
Transfer to ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When ready, it will be the consistency of soft serve ice cream.
Eat immediately as soft serve, or freeze to harden:
The ice cream can be served immediately if desired. To harden to a scoopable consistency, transfer the ice cream to a loaf pan or other freezer-safe container, press a piece of parchment paper over the top, and cover it with a lid. Place in the freezer for at least 2 hours. When ready, scoop onto your favorite cone.
This ice cream will keep for about a month before starting crystallize.