There are few desserts that beat ice cream when it comes to the ratio of simplicity vs. decadence. Sure, you can whip up a beautiful cheesecake with a thin caramel top, bake a round of sticky cinnamon buns, or make yourself some homemade butterscotch pudding – but when you want something sweet, delicious, cold, and absolutely sinful for very little effort, nothing beats coffee ice cream. And it’s deceptively easy to make.
Ice cream is, as the name implies, largely just frozen cream. Yet what sets it apart from your average ice cube is the fact that it is churned during the freezing process. This breaks the frozen cream apart continuously while it keeps cooling, creating a rich, creamy dessert with the consistency and feel you love and deserve, rather than a simple coffee popsicle (though that’s an option too).
A Quick History
As far as we know, the first few instances of ice cream exist in the form of ice shavings – the rich and powerful would commission blocks of ice to be brought down from the mountains, shaved into fine layers of powdery white, and drenched in fresh fruit juices or alcohol. Around the same time in China, a frozen mixture of milk and rice led to the discovery of a frozen milk-based dessert, eventually culminating in the creation of an ice cream-like dish in the early first century, made of milk, camphor, and flour as a thickening agent.
It wasn’t until centuries later that the Italians invented gelato, sometime around the 16th century, and since then, countless ways of making ice cream have come to market, including sorbets, gelatos, popsicles, ice cream, nice cream, and more. We’re going to cover all the delicious ways in which you can whip yourself up a quick ice cream dessert to enjoy at home, using the best of the best recipes to suit your taste and ability.
Making Coffee Ice Cream in an Ice Cream Machine
The basis of coffee ice cream is cream (shocker), egg yolks, and sugar. With these three ingredients, you’ve got the makings of any good ice cream recipe on the planet – all that’s missing is the flavor of ice cream you want, as well as additional little tricks to improve texture, add crunch, or just be fancy (introducing swirls into your coffee ice cream and whatnot). If you want to make plain and delicious coffee ice cream, you only need about 15 minutes of prep and a couple of simple ingredients.
- Prepare 2 cups heavy cream with 1 cup whole milk, and roughly ¾ of a cup of granulated white sugar. Muscovado sugar will interfere with the taste and texture of the ice cream but refined brown sugar will do as well. Separate 4 egg yolks from the whites, and either discard the whites or make some macaroons or meringue.
- Portion your sugar into half a cup and ¼ of a cup and mix the larger portion with the cream and milk in a saucepan on medium heat. Don’t let it get to a boil, and gently stir until the sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, beat your egg yolks with the remaining sugar until pale and dissolved.
- Gently add the cream to the yolk mixture ladle-for-ladle, to avoid scrambling the yolk. Once the temperature of the egg bowl is similar to the temperature of the cream, bring them together and continue heating until thickened. This takes 5-7 minutes. If you see any curdling, use a hand blender to smoothen the mixture again, or blend it after cooling.
- Let the mixture cool. It’s a base for literally anything, but because we’re making coffee ice cream, you’ll want to prepare your coffee. The best thing for this recipe is 4 shots of very strong and flavorful espresso, made with a fine grind of arabica beans. However, if you lack an espresso machine (most people do), use a Moka pot or brew some very strong coffee in a cafetière. You’ll want a low volume of concentrated coffee to preserve the texture of your custard, and not water it down.
- Churn! Most ice cream makers either require you to pre-freeze the bowl overnight or keep it cool in the machine. It’ll take anywhere from 15-20 minutes for the coffee ice cream to be done, so you can start it up before you have dinner and have it be ready by the time everyone is up for dessert.
Making a Coffee Sorbet
In the world of ice cream, the Italian gelato is ice cream that is slow churned with less air and more decadence, creating a compact yet soft scoop, while a sorbet (sorbetto) is an ancient invention of ice cream made without the cream. Different from shaved ice with fruit juices, sorbets are made by freezing sweetened and flavored water. Making sorbet is easy – all you need is simple syrup, water, and freshly-squeezed fruit juice or fruit puree.
In our case, however, replace the fruit juice with strong coffee concentrate (which you can make yourself, either through an espresso or by making yourself a cup of overnight cold brew coffee). Other options include a little rum (to lower the freezing point), maple or corn syrup (to increase softness), or even a few egg whites. Sorbets are completely vegan (unless specified otherwise, such as in the case of egg whites) and don’t require an ice cream maker.
- Combine roughly a cup of strong coffee with half a cup of sugar, half a cup of corn syrup/simple syrup (or less), and four cups of water in a pot. Boil, then simmer until thick. Don’t turn the heat too high, to avoid caramelization, and don’t let anything burn on the bottom of the pot – simply gently stir until the mixture begins to stick to your spoon or spatula.
- Let the whole thing cool, then stick it in the freezer. Pour it into a plastic container and line the mixture with parchment paper or foil, to avoid forming water crystals on the surface of the mixture.
- Once it’s frozen, but not completely hard, remove it from the container and run it through a food processor or blender to give it that smooth consistency. Serve in a cold bowl, or with some cream.
Bonus 1: Whip Up a Classic Affogato
If you want to take your dessert game one step further and really impress the guests, then why not go classic Italian? An affogato is an amazing coffee-based dessert composed of high-quality gelato, frozen and as cold as can be and a delicious and freshly brewed scalding hot ounce of espresso.
Let’s go through the steps, shall we?
- Start with the base for your gelato. Remember, gelato is churned much slower, eggs optional, and otherwise typically starts with the same custard base as you’d expect for other kinds of ice cream. It’s up to you whether you want to make this one with egg yolks or without them, but the basic ingredients are as follows: a cup of heavy cream, 3 cups of whole milk, about one cup of granulated sugar, and a shot of espresso.
- Heat about 70 percent of your sugar with the cream and milk over low heat until the sugar dissolves, and don’t let it get to a boil.
- Whip up your yolks and remaining sugar until pale but not stiff, simply beat the yolks until the sugar has entirely dissolved. Add a ladleful of your cream mixture to the eggs while you’re beating them, being careful not to add too much. Pouring egg yolks into a hot cream mixture risks scrambling the egg, so try to bring the yolks to an even temperature with the cream before pouring it all back into the pot.
- (Optional) If you’re averse to using eggs, use about 5 tsp. of cornstarch instead. No need to separate mixtures.
- Pour your mixture out into a chilling bowl through a strainer (to keep everything silky smooth) and let the whole thing cool. From there, pour it into your ice cream maker and get things started according to your owner’s manual.
- Keep an eye on the gelato! Stop the machine once the coffee ice cream is frozen, but not quite ‘done’. You still want a soft consistency, enough that it can hold shape but isn’t completely hard.
- The finishing touch! Add your milk gelato to a pre-frozen bowl or glass, and gently pour fresh and hot espresso over your gelato. A single shot for a large scoop is a good ratio.
Bonus 2: Irish Cream Ice Cream
If alcohol is more so your speed, and you want to preserve both the kick and the taste of a glass of Irish cream without getting rid of the alcohol in the heating process, then simply do the following – make a base custard, add a touch of vanilla extract, let it cool, and pour half a cup of Baileys before letting the mixture churn in your ice cream maker.
For an extra touch of delicious decadence, add some dark chocolate chips to the mix. A bonus it the fact that alcohol actually keeps ice cream a little cooler, as well as softer. This makes it easier to scoop!
That’s really the gist of it – unless you’re missing an ice cream maker or don’t want to do the churning yourself (it’s a good idea to get your kids involved to do it for you, if you’ve got any), ice cream is largely just a matter of making a milky custard with a delicious flavor base, and waiting anywhere from 15-20 minutes for the machine to finish. And if you’re willing to compromise on authenticity and flavor just a little bit, a couple of frozen bananas and a high-powered blender will get you surprisingly far in your journey to satiate that sweet tooth with very little effort and just a handful of decadent ingredients.