Everyone loves ice cream. But hardly anyone makes it—anyone without a fancy ice cream machine, that is. SeriousEats set out to make real-deal homemade ice cream without special gear and found an unlikely solution: the ice cube tray.
It was far from the first thing they tried. One early attempt—tossing a goup of eggyolks, vanilla extract, and sugar into the freezer—was too icy. Later attempts had too much overrun, the amount of air incorporated into the ice cream mix. And Serious Eats wasn't just shooting in the dark; they knew what they were aiming for: perfectly creamy 33% overrun. (Fancy brands like Haagen-Dazs have roughly 25% overrun; cheaper ones like Breyers can be as high as 94%.)
And then they had their eureka moment:
A thought struck me: I knew that when freezing meat or fish, the more rapidly the food is frozen, the less cell damage there is due to ice crystal formation. Would speeding up the rate at which the ice cream base froze help me minimize crystal formation as well?
The rate at which a given volume changes temperature is dependent on the temperature of its surrounding environment, as well as the amount of surface area exposed to it. There's no way for me to get my freezer to get any colder, but as it turns out, there's a simple device that is custom designed to freeze liquids in your freezer as fast as possible: an ice cube tray.
The ice cube tray yielded the perfect ice cream: 33% overrun with little crystal formation.
After a quick ride around in the food processor, the ice cream ice cubes had been beaten down to 24% overrun, better than some of the best ice cream on the market. And so the the challenge was met: real, real yummy ice cream, made at home, without a special machine. A victory for us all.