Summer Says, Ice Cream

Nothing beats a cone or a bowl of ice cream, anytime of the year, But in the heat of the summer it a go-to for me.

ice cream

This photo is a sweet frozen memory of my peach-centric visit last month to Sara’s Fresh Market, the produce stand in Trenton SC owned by Titan Farms. I simply can’t resist… that soft serve machine behind the counter just seems to calls my name. And, at Sara’s I might add, the peach and strawberry soft serve are really made with the farm’s own fruit.

Ice Cream Memories

Scroll back with me now, for a moment in time.

As a young girl growing up in the mid-1960s, I was accompanied each weekend by my Mom, Dad and my brother Jaimie as we celebrated our family’s summer tradition of a group trip to the brand new Baskin Robbins.  A purist, my Dad would opt for vanilla or strawberry in the short cake cone, while Mom was all into rum raisin on a sugar cone. But, Jaimie and I would run our fingers across the chilled glass case, carefully making the decision of what to select from a palate of the shops 31 exciting flavors. It was a decision you didn’t want to mess up, so sampling at least a couple of different flavors each week with those tiny colorful spoons was a must.   

For me that was ice cream – so much better than the ever present block of Neapolitan in our kitchen freezer. It wasn’t until much later in my life – when I met my good friend Pat Walker, then Pat Endler, and her hubby-to-be James Walker that I learned the joys to be found in an icy bowl of freshly churned milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla.

Churning your own

Several summers ago, I had the idea to write about the old-time family fun found in churning your own ice cream, for a summer issue of Charlotte Living magazine. Rather than google a recipe on the internet, I turned to James to churn up some of his family memories and a recipe he still recreates today.

As a part of this ice cream feature, I thought you would enjoy an excerpt from that article and with it, James Walkers’ family recipe for homemade ice milk.

ice cream
Ice Cream Aficianado, James Walker. Photo courtesy of Wes Walker, Dream Alive Productions

A strong believer that often the equipment is as important as the recipe, I had to ask the question of my go-to ice cream aficionado, and, when pressed, he admits that he doesn’t believe hand-cranked batch of ice cream to be any better than an electric churn.

“It was fun, I suppose, to take turns at the crank. But really it was like Tom Sawyer painting the fence –  the goal was to see how long you could get the others guy to take the crank, so you could just sit back and wait for the finished product” he laughed.

 “We’d sit out on front porch,” he told me, “and everyone would gather around.” 

In a day and time before cell phones to text friends, and video games or Instagram and Snapchat posts to take away from the conversation, James remembers that ice cream making was an event. 

“Why, it would draw a crowd quicker than pouring a drink at cocktail time,”  said Walker.

And that’s the truth, nothing like friends and family gathered around on the front porch to enjoy the break from the heat that a frozen bowl of creamy comfort offers.

The Walker family recipe below is still enjoyed and James can still draw a crowd of friends and family alike once word is out that his infamous home made ice cream is in the offing.

Ice Cream vs Ice Milk

Back in the day, when there wasn’t money to buy cream families got inventive and used whole milk or canned milk and sometimes they added water to stretch the ingredient to make enough for all to enjoy. This addition gave the frozen confection a textural icy finish. 

Back then, the milk was thinned out of necessity; but today, even though times are different, James still makes the recipe with milk and water instead of heavy cream because its the memory of the taste he loved.

Now-a-days you could churn the original recipe into something a bit more farm fresh with local eggs and organic sugar and local or organic whole cream top milk if you would like; but don’t switch out the canned milk and the water – it’s the cherry on the top that makes this classic recipe the stuff memories are made of.

Walker’s Classic Ice Milk

4 1/2 cans evaporated milk ( NOT condensed milk) + plus water from rinsing cans

6 whole eggs

4 cups sugar

4 cups whole milk

3-4 Tbsp. real vanilla ( James insists, “the more the better”)

Blend canned milk, sugar and eggs together until sugar has dissolved. Rinse each of the canned milk cans by filling them halfway full of water and then add that water to the mix. Stir in milk and vanilla. Freeze according to your ice cream freezer’s directions  – sit out on the porch, share with family and friends and enjoy!

From Churn to Carton

If you don’t want to churn your own, but want that home-churned flavor of the real deal, may I suggest you try any one of the four flavors of Clemson’s Best Gourmet Ice Cream. It’s as if you shopped for all local ingredients and churned it yourself.

ice cream

Clemson’s Best Gourmet Ice Cream

I introduced you to this wonderful way to eat local in my June 2019 eat local round up. It a fabulous South Carolina product created and crafted by four South Carolina farming families who produce the local milk, peaches, pecans and the strawberries that go into each carton. All you need to do is grab a spoon and dig in on the fun! And then, as the carton says, “thank a local farmer for this scoop of happiness.”

ice cream

In and around Charlotte, Clemson’s Best Ice Creams are available at all area Ingles stores.

All of these South Carolina farmers – from Hickory Hill Milk (the cream top milk), Yon Farms ( pecans), Titan Farms ( peaches), McLeod Farms ( strawberries) – are Clemson grads. This “Nothing Skinny About It” ice cream is a wonderful way for them to give back and help future farmers get a leg up.

With each carton you purchase, you give back to farming and agricultural programs at Clemson University, helping to teach farming families of tomorrow.

Cooking with Ice Cream

I know. You are thinking, really, we are going to cook? Let’s just eat it.

But, I wouldn’t be much of a food writer if I didn’t at least explore the possibilities of using ice cream in a recipe.

Ice Cream Sammies

Easiest ice cream recipe, evaah – save for shakes, sundaes and banana splits – is for an ice cream sandwich. Buy or make a batch of cookies. You’ll need two for each sandwich. Scoop a large scoop of ice cream out and place on top of one of the cookies. Top with the other cookie and press down till the ice cream goes out to the edge. Smooth the edges.

You’ll be tempted to eat it right away, but don’t. Wrap the sweet sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and return to the freezer. Give it an hour or so and then pull out and enjoy.

Speaking of Cookies…

Say you are fresh out of fresh milk. Why not use that carton of ice cream in the freezer for baking up a batch of cookies? Its true – works like a charm and the flavor profile it yields is amazing. Use Clemson’s Best Butter Pecan to make chocolate chip pecan cookies, Clemson’s Best Vanilla to make peanut butter cookies. The possibilities are endless – just substitute equal quantities of this delicious real melted ice cream for the milk in your favorite cookie or batter bread recipes. Oh my, as you bake these cookies, just think how good the Clemson’s Best butter pecan ice cream will be (in and on) your next batch of banana bread…

ICE CREAM COOKIES

1/2 cup melted butter

 1/3 cup organic sugar

 1/2 packed cup brown sugar

 1/2 cup your favorite flavor of Clemson’s Best Gourmet Ice Cream 

 1 local egg

 1 tsp. vanilla

 1/2 tsp. baking soda

 1/4 tsp. salt

 2 cups all-purpose flour

 2 cups chocolate chips 

1 cup chopped Yon Farm’s Pecans or other favorite nuts or 1/2 cup local peanut butter

Combine melted butter, organic sugar and brown sugar in a large bowl and blend well by hands or with an electric mixer.

In a separate bowl, combine the egg with the melted ice cream. Reserve.

In another bowl, combine the flour with the baking soda and salt. Reserve

Add the flour and the ice cream mixture, alternately to the butter and sugar mixture, blending just until it all comes together, Stir in chocolate chips and nuts.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 – 45 mins.

Spoon out about 2-3 tablespoons worth of dough at a time. Quickly make a ball and place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Allow more space between the cookies if you decided to make larger ones.

Bake 8-11 minutes in a preheated 350 oven. The cookies will be fragile when they are hot out of the oven. Let them cool on the pan for 4-5 minutes. Then, carefully transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Fancy Up Cake and Ice Cream – Make a Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska is really a pretty easy dessert. After all, its just cake and ice cream, covered with meringue and torched till the meringue turns a toasty brown.

The one piece of equipment you’ll need for this recipe is a brûlée torch. You can buy one at any good kitchen shop or, of course, on Amazon… I don’t do affiliate links, so I’ll leave it to you to pick out your own, but if you need any help or suggestions, just make a note in the comments below and I’ll be glad to help.

Torching aside, its the process of assembling the Baked Alaska that can be tricky. Anytime you work with ice cream in summer you run the risk of things melting into a creamy, albeit delicious, mess.

Classic recipes call to line a bowl with plastic wrap or use a time honored ice cream mold. Fill the bowl or the mold with soften layers of ice cream, freezing with each addition to keep them from melting together. Once frozen, and ready to serve, deftly, flip the bowl to unmold the frozen mound of ice cream onto a round of fresh baked cake of equal diameter, placing it in the center of a serving platter.

You must then quickly frost the layered cake and ice cream with meringue and toast it with a brûlée torch. If you are feeling game, the dessert is then flambeed for presentation, then, sliced and served before anything starts to melt. Tricky process in the best of conditions, but as outside temps climb into summer’s high 90’s, its even trickier.

But remember, its still just cake and ice cream

So I’ve made the process a bit easier. For now, we’ll skip the dramatic table side flambe; although we will still brown the meringue with your new brûlée torch.

For a crowd, you can start with a pie pan. But, I much prefer to replicate this recipe in individual servings by layering the classic combo of cake and ice cream in a single serving ramekin. Remember, cake is your first layer; then its topped with ice cream and “frosted”with a meringue that you toast just before serving. That’s all there is to it.

You may bake your own one layer cake and cut it to fit the pie pan. or bake half of the recipe in a pie pan, so that the cake layer only comes about half way up the side of the pan. The top with a layer of ice cream. Soften the carton slightly and then spread the ice cream in a thick layer on top of the cake. Cover and Freeze for several hours or best overnight. Just before serving, dollop on the meringue ( recipe below) covering all of the ice cream, even on the edges. Them, use your brulee torch according to the package directions to toast the meringue as you would toast a marshmallow over an open fire. Cut into serving sized portions and start accepting the accolades.

Muffin Bottoms are key to this impressive ice cream dessert

Easier still, in lieu of cake, buy a few of your favorite muffins. Use a flavor that coordinates with your favorite flavor of ice cream. You might think about using cupcakes, but I tell you, a moist muffin adds a lot more interest and flavor to the final product.

While muffin tops may be all the rage, for this recipe we just want the muffin bottoms. Slice 2, 3/4-inch thick, slices from each muffin bottom. One muffin bottom should make two servings. Make a nice clean cut and you can still serve the muffin top with coffee or tea for breakfast the morning after.

Place the slice of muffin bottom in a large, but still, single serving ramekin. Or you can use a fun pottery mug or coffee cup or even a cute food-safe votive candle holder. Then top with your favorite flavor of slightly softened ice cream.

Top the muffin layer with a flavor coordinated layer of your favorite ice cream. In this case, I’d suggest raisin bran muffins with Clemson’s Best Butter Pecan Gourmet Ice Cream. Blueberry Muffins with Clemson’s Best Strawberry and Cream or Peaches and Cream Ice Cream. And, any kind of muffin tastes great with the Vanilla.

Spread the ice cream over and press it down around the muffin layer if there is any wiggle room. Your ice cream layer should be about an inch thick and should come all the way to the top of the mug or ramekin, but not over the top.

Cover each serving with plastic wrap and freeze. You’ll want the ice cream to be solid before you serve, so give yourself several hours before you proceed with the next step of frosting it all with meringue. Then torch the meringue to brown it slightly as directed above and serve. Viola! You’ve made a Baked Alaska!

Remember you are smarter than the food

Prepare the meringue just before you are ready to serve. Don’t let the thought of making a homemade meringue get you down or freak you out. Its just beaten egg whites and sugar. You can do it! Remember you are smarter than the food.

Whipping egg whites

When it comes to whipping egg whites, you can do it by hand with a whisk and build up great muscles in one arm. But, the process is so much easier with an electric mixer or food processor. All that is happening is that your are adding air to the egg whites. The egg whites stretch to form bubbles to encapsulate the air and so the volume in the bowl increases.

ice cream

For more on all the stages the egg whites go through as you beat, check out my second of two posts on local eggs.

Meanwhile for this meringue, know that the process is the very easiest with a stand mixer or an electric mixer in hand.

Once the meringue is done, it can’t sit for very long, so you need to get right on using it to frost the tops of the ice cream in the mugs or ramekins. Pull them out of the freezer. Top them with the meringue as you would whipped cream; and then use the brulee torch according to the directions on the package to lightly toast the meringue on top of each serving. Its just like toasting a marshmallow – You just need to do it before the ice cream starts to melt.

Quick and Easy Meringue

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

3/4 cup organic sugar

1/4 tsp cream of tartar

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch of fine salt

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; Or use a large bowl and a hand mixer. Beat the egg whites until they are foamy and look like the picture in this post. Add in the cream of tartar, vanilla, and salt.

Keep beating on a higher speed. Slowly start to add in the sugar after the whites turn into “soft peaks.”  That is you have volume in the bowl – nothing watery, but they are not quite holding their shape. When the eggs whites start to hold their shape, you are at the soft peak stage and may start adding the sugar. Once you add the sugar the egg white officially start to become a meringue.

Keep beating and watch as the egg whites get stiffer and stiffer. Your meringue is done when the egg whites are very stiff and firm and with the addition of the sugar they will also be glossy. To test, scoop out a spoonful and turn it upside down. If nothing falls off of the spoon you are golden. If the whites fall off the spoon, they are not stiff enough, so keep beating.

Use your meringue to top any summer pie or your fabulous Baked Alaska and enjoy!

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