How to Make Homemade Ice Cream for Kids to Beat the Heat
Homemade ice cream is a summertime tradition that dates back generations. In our family, great grandma‘s old-fashioned vanilla ice cream was a staple at family gatherings and special occasions. Occasionally topped by strawberries, nuts, or homemade chocolate sauce, it remains a universally loved summer treat.
Old-fashioned custard-based recipes like the one my family grew up with and still uses typically call for raw egg, which can carry food safety risks. For today’s parents, Philadelphia-style ice cream, an American method that is based on milk, cream, and sugar, is a safer choice for kids looking to escape the summer heat.
Related: Top 10 Frozen Treats for Summer
Do You Need to Buy an Ice Cream Maker?
If you plan on making homemade ice cream regularly, investing in a dedicated maker pays off quickly. There are two main types, electrical and manual, and both rely on the same engineering and physics principles: a rotating dash inside a lidded food-safe metal canister is turned by either human (a crank on the side of the machine) or electric (a motor) power.
To make ice cream, mix your batter, chill if necessary, and pour it into the freezer container. The dash is fitted inside and the lid is attached before you set the whole thing inside a larger bucket. In traditional makers, this outer bucket is filled with layers of cubed ice and sprinkles of rock salt.
When the machine is in use, the freezer container spins through the ice layers, chilling the batter inside while the dash stirs. Since churning ice cream this way requires steady cranking until the ice cream reaches soft-serve consistency, manual machines are easier with a group of volunteers (and a fun option for keeping hordes of children entertained). Electric machines automate this part.
Manual, or hand-crank, ice cream makers are tougher to find nowadays, but they still carry deep nostalgia. Vintage versions can be found online, and new hand-crank machines are still being produced by the Amish brand Immergood.
If you’re making ice cream with one or more children, don’t skip cleaning the dash. Have a large bowl, spoons, serving spoon, and a paper towel or rag ready to go. Once the ice cream thickens to at least soft-serve level, pull the container, remove the lid, and use your towel to grasp the dash by the top.
Pull as much ice cream back into the container with the serving spoon as you can. Then, walking out onto grass or using your bowl to catch the drips, hand each waiting child a spoon and let them clear the dash. At our house, kids who don’t crank the ice cream don’t eat it, so there is always a line of excited children waiting to help!
Homemade ice cream can be served immediately, but for firmer scoops, place the container in your freezer for 20-30 minutes while you clean up and prep toppings.
The Science of Homemade Ice Cream and Rock Salt
Whether you choose a hand crank ice cream maker or an electric churn, the mechanical process typically involves layering ice with handfuls of rock salt between the outer bucket and the outside of the freezer container.
As The Kitchn explains, if you’re using this traditional ice technique, you shouldn’t skip the salt. Adding a generous sprinkle of rock salt to the ice enables the batter for your homemade ice cream to start freezing before all the ice totally melts. When our family makes ice cream, we buy an extra bag of ice to be sure we have enough and add more partway through the churning time. The whole process takes about 30-45 minutes.
Technology is constantly changing, and ice cream makers are no different. You can save money and clean up with an electric version like this Cuisinart model that doesn’t need ice or salt to freeze your batter.
Think Outside the Bucket: Vanilla Ice Cream Kit
If you dislike kitchen unitaskers, you might prefer to recruit a stand mixer for ice cream. Attachments designed specifically for ice cream, like this bucket kit, are readily available. But if you already have a trusty mixer on standby, KitchenAid offers an easy vanilla ice cream recipe that can be adapted using only the whisk attachment and a freezer-safe dish. On the Eat This page, step-by-step photos of a condensed milk-based batter are included for this technique.
Homemade Ice Cream Recipes Without An Ice Cream Maker
Churning is recommended for homemade ice cream to prevent the formation of large ice crystals that can affect the final product's texture. But no-churn recipes abound that can be made in something as simple as a discarded coffee can! For still more summer fun ideas, have your kids experiment with frozen treats — such as granitas — that work with the ice crystal problem instead of against it.
Beat the summer heat with any or all of these simple homemade ice cream tricks for everyday kitchen and household items!
Got two old tin cans that can nest inside each other? You’ve got ice cream, says the Happy Hooligans crew. This fun, eco-friendly method for vanilla ice cream relies on those old standbys — ice and rock salt —and an active kid (or two or three) ready to shake, rattle, and roll. Dixie Crystals keeps it even simpler with an unflavored base recipe that calls only for milk, sugar, and heavy cream.
Pull out a large mason jar and put on some dance music for this easy shaken ice cream that comes together in minutes!
This kid-friendly recipe from Bigger Bolder Baking relies on heavy whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk, and a whole lot of moving and shaking.
Use your blender. This easy recipe for strawberry ice cream by Diethood isn’t “real” ice cream — that would require aerating a liquid batter while chilling it slowly. Instead, it combines frozen berries with cream for a quick and slightly healthy soft-serve dupe.
Perhaps the simplest method of all calls for sealing ice cream batter in zip-top plastic bags before shaking them up in a container full of ice. Get the directions for the base recipe as well as mint chocolate chip, chocolate, and strawberry variations from Food Network Kitchen.
Allergy-Friendly Ice Cream Recipes
Dairy allergies? Special diet needs? Sugar restrictions? No problem! Today’s families have an abundance of milk substitutes to choose from for homemade frozen treats. Some of the most popular swaps for cow’s milk dairy are coconut milk, almond milk, fruit juice, and oat milk.
Try this quick recipe for vegan banana “ice cream” by Happy Hooligans; there is only one ingredient.
And once the ice cream’s done, check out more fun ways to stay cool all summer long with our list of the 13 Best Inflatable Sprinklers and Slides!
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Kate is a journalist, editor, and mom to five adopted and biological children.