Cinnamon Ice Cream & The Secret to Homemade Ice Cream

Ice cream may be one of my favorite treats, or at least the one I seem to never tire of or not feel in the mood for. The ice cream machine that I bought last year was certainly an impulse buy (ok, I had a gift card to use up – I didn’t just plop down a lot of money on a whim), but it’s turned out to be one of the best, more spontaneous decisions I’ve made. I still haven’t figured out if it’s more economical to make your own ice cream, and up until pretty recently I’ve had my qualms about quality differences – you’re just not going to get the smooth, fluffiness of store-bought, and those fun mix-ins can get a little pricey – but it’s such a fun gadget to have.

Recently, I tried my hand at a custard-based (aka “French Style”) ice cream for the first time. Now, growing up I was all about French Vanilla. I would regard those little black specks in the Vanilla Bean ice creams in disgust. Who dared to defile my precious vanilla ice cream with those dirty-looking flecks? Sometimes I wonder if some alien performed a personality switch on me sometime around the age of seventeen. Now, especially after making my own custard-style ice cream, I can definitely say that I prefer the pure simplicity of “Philadelphia Style” ice cream the majority of the time, and those little “specks of dirt” that I now know to be vanilla bean specks are treasures rather than trash. However, there’s something to be said about a richer frozen treat every now and then. The richness actually subdues the ice cream a little, plus for most people it’s a great method of portion control because they find it difficult to overeat. I, of course, can plow through even the most decadent of desserts, but that’s an entirely different matter.

This cinnamon ice cream is good. It was one heck of an ordeal to make – not because the recipe was flawed or overly complex, but rather because I just did something wrong – and at first I was ready to label it an utter failure. You see, the actual ice cream was easy to make; a little time consuming, but easy. Then, I poured it into my ice cream machine, and waited. And waited. And waited. Forty minutes later in a machine that’s supposed to work magic in 20-30, my cinnamon ice cream was still pure liquid. I wanted the ice cream to be as fresh as possible for the dinner at which I was serving it, so I didn’t leave time for much extra chilling. By the time dessert rolled around, it was still not even close to semi-solid. So, I heated some up and turned it into a creamy sauce to pour over baked apples. It was good, but I was disheartened.

After a full night’s stay in my freezer, it came together and solidified. In its current state, it’s slightly too icey and it’s best scooped after sitting on the counter for about 10 minutes, but it is, to its credit, ice cream and not a liquidy mess of eggs, sugar, and heavy cream infused with cinnamon sticks (not that that sounds so terrible, though, right?). I realized later on that the issue was likely the temperature of my canister. I put it in the freezer two days in advance so it certainly froze completely, but I put it in the small freezer above our refrigerator rather than in the stand-alone freezer in the laundry room. I made another batch of ice cream (this time plain vanilla and from the Cuisinart manual to try to see if it was an issue with my machine) a few days later, and placed that canister in the full freezer beforehand instead. When I pulled it out, I couldn’t even touch it with my bare hands, that’s how cold it was – even after 2 days in the smaller freezer, my canister never got that cold. The latest ice cream attempt was the most glorious ice cream I have ever made (and if I can remember to take a picture of it, I’ll tell you about that one, too!), and so I genuinely believe that the cinnamon ice cream “flop” had a whole lot to do with temperature, and not a whole lot to do with the recipe. So remember, if you don't need a towel, apron, or hardcore gloves to transport your ice cream canister from the freezer to the machine, it's not cold enough, and you're not going to get as good of a result.

This ice cream is gentle, but formidable. The custard base does lend a richness that prevents you from shoveling into your mouth like a caveman, yet the cinnamon flavor is subtle and demure. It was good with the baked apples; it was good perched on top of a cinnamon bun; it was good topped with crumbled ice cream cones and cinnamon flavored m&ms; and, I imagine it would be good blended up into a milkshake with a little bit of natural applesauce (or bananas and a nut butter, or…) or eaten alongside some pumpkin granola, though I haven’t had the opportunity to test either of those theories out yet. I would love to make this recipe again to see if I can master the texture now that I know the secret trick to getting my canister cold as cold can be, because even with its iciness I find myself reaching into the freezer for more whenever I get hungry for dessert.

Cinnamon Ice Cream, courtesy of Brown Eyed Baker1
Yield: 1 quart

The Ingredients
1 cup whole millk
¾ cup granulated sugar
pinch of salt
10 3-inch cinnamon sticks, broken up2
2 cups heavy cream, divided
5 egg yolks3

The Method
Combine the milk, sugar, salt, cinnamon sticks and half of the heavy cream in a medium saucepan over medium or medium-high heat. Warm the mixture through, gently, then remove from the heat and cover. Set aside at room temperature for one hour.

Return the milk mixture to the heat to rewarm it, then remove the cinnamon sticks and discard. Add the remaining heavy cream in a large mixing bowl, place a mesh strainer on top, and set aside. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks in a third bowl. Slowly pour the warm cinnamon-infused mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly to temper them, and then return the warm cinnamon-infused mixture along with the yolks back to the pan.

Over medium heat, constantly stir the yolk-milk mixture using a heatproof spatula, taking care to scrape the bottom of the pan as well. Continue warming until the mixture has thickened and coats the spatula, reaching approximately 170° Fahrenheit. Pour the custard through the strainer, into the cream in the mixing bowl you’ve set aside. Place the large mixing bowl into an ice bath and stir until the mixture has cooled.

Chill the mixture in the refrigerator – preferably overnight, but as thoroughly as time permits – and then freeze in your (very, very, very cold) ice cream machine according to manual instructions.4

1This recipe was adapted originally from David Lebovitz’s cookbook, The Perfect Scoop.
2I found it easiest to smash the cinnamon sticks with a knife, as you would a clove of garlic, and continue breaking them into pieces that way.
3You can freeze the whites.
4Just before placing in my ice cream machine, I stirred in 2 tablespoons white chocolate liqueur; small amounts of alcohol can be added to homemade ice cream to combat that iciness that’s commonly encountered.


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