It can be pretty easy today to buy quite good commercial ice creams, whether one of the many regional small-scale producers — like Snoqualmie from my back yard — or premium national brands (I don’t really love regular Häagen-Dazs, but am a fan of the Five line). I even sampled at the Fancy Food Show earlier this month a new line of gelati that are due to be launched in retail channels under Mario Batali’s brand. If the espresso and caramel flavors I tasted are any indication, those will be a worthwhile indulgence now and then.

Despite the convenience of commercial ice cream, it remains one of my favorite treats to whip up at home. It’s really not a complicated process. Just takes a bit of time to make the custard (my preferred ice cream type) and make certain it’s well chilled before freezing. And you need to have an ice cream freezer on hand. But beyond that, it’s delightfully easy to make ice cream at home. With the added benefit of being able to make whatever flavor you want, an ideal opportunity to customize your dessert offerings.

Today I made not one but two batches of ice cream. The ice cream maker I’ve used for a number of years is a simple Krups version, with a base I keep tucked away in the basement freezer, ready to churn a batch of ice cream any time. For my birthday this past year, my husband gave me a new ice cream maker, an attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer. I looked at him a little blankly as I tore the wrapping off the package, thinking to myself “but….I’ve already got an ice cream maker.” He responded to my silent question, saying “this way you can make two types of ice cream at the same time.” That’s why I love that man. Always thinking. Indeed, it’s tough to make a couple types of ice cream in quick succession with the standard freezer-bowl types. After each batch, the bowl needs to refreeze for a number of hours before it can be called to service again.

This was the first time I’d taken advantage of my new double-whammy ice cream freezers. When I started pondering what types to make, I realized I had a couple of prime candidate ingredients: coffee we brought home from a December visit to Costa Rica (purchased on the property of a coffee plantation we’d toured), and ground cinnamon a friend had gifted me from a recent trip to Vietnam. The two are freezing right now, ready for a flurry of friends coming over tonight. I look forward to swirling a bit of the two together, the layers of those flavors should be delightful. It was tough, but I tried to be good and not sample them too much before sharing with others!

I don’t remember often making ice cream as a kid. My ice cream-making teeth were cut while studying at La Varenne. The recipe I still use today is a variation on the one we used at the school. Of course, eggs, cream, simple and selective ingredients. Perpetually delicious.

Here’s my take on coffee ice cream, one of my top flavor choices. When it comes to the coffee for the flavoring, I much prefer using whole beans rather than espresso powder (though it’s a good backup option). And I prefer to crush the beans using a rolling pin or mallet, rather than grinding them. I pop the coffee in a heavy duty freezer-type bag for that task. Even on the coarsest setting of my great burr grinder, some of the more finely ground coffee will pass through a fine sieve, leaving the ice cream with a bit of gritty texture.

Coffee Ice Cream

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup coarsely crushed coffee beans
5 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar

Combine the cream and milk in a medium saucepan and warm over medium heat just until the first gentle bubbles rise to the surface. Stir in the coffee beans, return to a low boil, then set the pan aside for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

After the coffee has steeped, return the pan to medium heat to once again bring to a low boil. While the mixture is reheating, combine the egg yolks and sugar in a medium heat-proof bowl and whisk until smooth. Strain about 1/2 cup or so of the steaped cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking right away to evenly blend. Strain in another 1/2 cup or so at a time twice more. It’s important to add the hot cream gradually, so the egg yolks warm gently and you avoid curdling. When the egg yolk mixture is warmed, the remaining cream can be fully added to the bowl. Whisk gently to thoroughly blend.

Wipe any remaining coffee beans from the saucepan (or simply use a clean saucepan) and pour the custard mixture into  the pan. Set the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard is thickened enough to leave a clean trail on the back of the spoon when you run your finger across it. This usually takes about 5 minutes. Be sure to not only stir constantly, but draw the spoon evenly across the bottom and edges of the pan to avoid any sticking.

Pour the custard into a clean bowl and set aside until cooled (I sometimes accelerate this by cooling the custard over a large bowl of ice water). When cooled, cover the bowl with plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, overnight if possible.

Freeze the ice cream according to manufacturer’s instructions, then spoon the ice cream into an airtight freezer container. Freeze until shortly before serving, allowing it to soften on the counter for 15 to 30 minutes for easier scooping.

Makes about 1 quart