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This story is part of Home Tips, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
Don’t underestimate the power of your food processor. Amid the summer heat, this kitchen appliance can help you stay cool by churning out delicious homemade ice cream – no actual ice cream maker required.
Let’s be honest: An ice cream maker is a one-trick pony. And with limited space in our kitchens, machinery for the dessert genre isn’t always a top priority. Some of the more ice cream-obsessed among us (ahem) think it should be the main kitchen appliance, but most people will love finding another use for equipment you already have occupying your cupboards. A food processor is nothing if not versatile, but we can’t think of a more noble use for your trusty processor than homemade ice cream.
Any food processor with at least an eight-cup capacity will do the job; CNET rated the Cuisinart FP-8SVP as the best value food processor of the ones we’ve tried, and it will certainly work for blending your ice cream base.
Real ice cream, not ‘nice cream’
You can find tons of recipes for “ice cream” made in a food processor using a base of frozen bananas instead of the classic cream, eggs and sugar base (often called nice cream in reference to its healthy vegan status and maybe also its ease of preparation). It’s actually really good, but sometimes we want the real thing. Fellow sweet-cold-creamy obsessive Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, shares a quick, simple way to make traditional ice cream at home without an ice cream maker.
You can use Bauer’s basic vanilla ice cream recipe as a starting point: Leave out the vanilla bean and make the base through step two, then follow the steps she outlines here:
How to make ice cream in your food processor
1. Follow whatever basic recipe you want to make the custard. Don’t include any mix-ins yet, just the cream, eggs and sugar – and any ingredients that are there for flavor alone (see the note below for more info).
2. Pour the custard into a Ziploc bag and press every last bit of the air out. Seal it tightly and place it flat in the freezer. Allow to freeze completely.
3. Crumble the frozen custard into your food processor and process until completely smooth. At this point, you can stir in any mix-ins or additional flavorings you want.
4. Scrape the ice cream into your storage container (which can be a reusable ice cream carton or just a regular loaf pan) and place back in the freezer. That’s it!
The texture of this food processor ice cream is a bit finer, a little like gelato. But you can make it into any flavor you like, and stir in all sorts of mix-ins, from chopped peanut butter cups to fresh berries.
Note: If you want more infused flavor, you can steep things like fresh mint, roughly ground espresso beans or whole cinnamon sticks in the cream for a few hours or overnight before straining it and starting the recipe outlined above. You can also mix in vanilla extract, cocoa powder and other flavor agents, but you don’t want any mix-ins to go in until after the base has been frozen and blitzed – or else they’ll be completely pulverized.
The importance of air
Why can’t you just make the custard, freeze it, and eat it right away? Churning air into your ice cream as it freezes is essential if you want to avoid large ice crystals and not end up with a sad, solid block. You want something creamy and luscious that coats your tongue – not icy, crunchy ice “cream.” But if you churn your ice cream after the custard’s frozen, that’s the next best thing.
If you don’t already have a food processor, you probably want one right about now, huh? It’s definitely more versatile than an ice cream maker.
Don’t just stop at vanilla
There are hundreds of ice cream recipes online you can try with this food processor method. Just remember to follow the steps above and avoid any solid mix-ins during the initial mix. Something tells us this is going to be the best summer ever.
And if you do have the counter real estate for an ice cream maker, we tested Ninja’s Creami ice cream machine and gave it a big thumbs-up.
If you’re looking for more delicious dishes to try this summer, check out our alternative Dirty Shirley recipes, our guide on making whipped lemonade and this fun way to make a chocolate cake in five minutes.
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