If you love the idea of homemade ice cream but don’t feel like messing around with a cooked custard base, this recipe will be right up your alley. The cream cheese (or, in this case, mascarpone) gives it a luxurious, silky texture, but it comes together quicker without the extra, fussy step of tempering eggs and straining a custard. Greek yogurt helps lighten it up a bit without compromising the creaminess. The layers of fruit syrup and crushed graham crackers bring home all the memories of a fresh summer cheesecake.
I’ve broken the recipe into tasks over a couple of days, but you could easily start this in the morning and finish it the same evening. Just be sure you give the berries enough time to macerate, and the cream mixture time to thoroughly chill before freezing.
Not wild about strawberries? Feel free to swap them out in favor of another favorite fruit, but consider that some fruit might need to be cooked first. Blueberries and raspberries, to name two, aren’t as juicy as strawberries so they would need a little help getting there. I think fresh summer peaches would be amazing in this recipe—and, of course, cherries.
This recipe is part of a series for National Ice Cream Month. Each year in July, my community celebrates with a fundraiser called “The Big Chill,” an entry-by-donation event offering tastings of exquisitely crafted homemade ice creams, live music by local artists and “cold-calling,” during which various community leaders quite literally freeze their buns off while sitting on blocks of ice in quest of a fundraising goal. This year, because of our city’s commitment to safety during the coronavirus, the live event has been sidelined and all activities will be virtual instead.
The funds raised at The Big Chill are directed to an amazing non-profit organization called The Shalom Project. If you find any of my ice cream recipes interesting, creative, unexpected, intriguing or just plain pretty, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to this life-giving project. Link (here) for more information or (here) to donate, and thank you!
*The link to donate leads to my Key Lime Pie Ice Cream recipe on the Big Chill page, but your contribution will go to the same great cause!
8 oz. mascarpone* or cream cheese
3/4 cup caster (super-fine) sugar*
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup Greek yogurt* (plain or vanilla)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
2 1/2 cups fresh organic strawberries*
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. vodka* (optional for improved texture)
Mascarpone is an Italian-style creamy cheese, a bit denser and definitely silkier than regular cream cheese. It will lend an ultra-creamy texture to this ice cream which, unlike most of my others, does not begin with an egg custard. If mascarpone is not available in your market, use full-fat cream cheese (the brick kind) for similar result.
Caster sugar is sometimes called “super-fine” sugar. I’ve chosen it for this recipe because it is easier to dissolve in cold ingredients. In my custard-based ice creams, I use pure organic cane sugar, which I’m certain would not fare well in this recipe because we are not cooking the base.
Caster sugar is pure white and extremely processed (a quality that makes it practically against my religion), so it’s rare for me to use it at all. It’s also pretty expensive compared to most sugars. If you can’t find caster, put your regular sugar in a blender and grind it into as fine a powder as you can. Measure the amount after grinding. Otherwise, warm the milk called for in the recipe and dissolve your sugar into it, then cool completely before proceeding.
Because the mascarpone already has cream in it, I’m using less heavy cream than I normally would for ice cream. To make up the difference, I’ve opted for Greek yogurt, and the one I chose is vanilla with a touch of cinnamon, which I think is going to play really nicely against the strawberries. I’m always on the lookout for a twist, which typically leads me to develop favorite new recipes.
Unfortunately, strawberries top the 2020 “Dirty Dozen” list of potentially toxic produce items. Each year, the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization, issues a list of produce items most likely to be contaminated with pesticides and other questionable chemicals. You can learn more about it here, but in the meantime, choose organic strawberries whenever possible.
The vodka in this recipe is optional, and it does not affect the flavor, but it helps with the final texture of the ice cream, making it easier to scoop straight from the freezer.
Clean and hull the strawberries, and slice into pieces. I use an egg slicer for this task—it’s quick and simple, and I end up with uniform slices. Add the berries to a medium size bowl and stir in brown sugar. Give the berries time to fully macerate at room temperature, then put them in the refrigerator.
If you’re cool with having a pink-colored ice cream, feel free to skip this next step. I’ve decided this time around that I want to create a ribbon of strawberry syrup through the white ice cream, so I’m going over the top, even though it means I’ll add a day to my ice cream prep. Care to join me? Allow the strawberries to macerate overnight, then use a large mesh strainer to drain off the liquid and simmer it over medium-low heat until it is reduced by half and has the consistency of a thin syrup.
Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature, then return it to the fridge in a separate bowl from the drained berries.
In the bowl of your mixer, beat the mascarpone together with the caster sugar, milk and Greek yogurt until fully combined. Slowly beat in the heavy cream, taking care not to whip it too much. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Transfer the cream mixture to a sealed bowl and refrigerate several hours until fully chilled.
Day two (or three, if you went down the rabbit hole with me on the strawberry syrup):
Stir the cream mixture to reincorporate all ingredients, as some separation will have occurred. You don’t need to whip it here—just mix or gently whisk until the mixture has a uniform, creamy appearance. If you didn’t make the strawberry syrup, drain the berries at this point and blend their liquid into the cream mixture.
Pour the cream mixture into the ice cream machine and mix according to manufacturer’s instructions. Mine takes 20 to 25 minutes to freeze. For the final few minutes of freezing, spoon in the strained strawberries (and vodka, if using), allowing them to blend in before adding another spoonful, and repeat until all strawberries are used.
Place the graham crackers into a paper or zip top bag, and gently crush them with a rolling pin or the bottom of a bowl or measuring cup. I didn’t want it to be fully crumbs—try to keep a few bits of the crackers for texture in the finished ice cream.
Layer the ice cream in an insulated container, beginning with ice cream, then staggered layers of reduced syrup ribbon (if using) and graham crumbles. Finish with the leftover fine crumbs. Cover the container and freeze at least 4 hours until firm.
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Just for fun, and because we had already licked the bowl, the spoon and the ice cream maker paddle, I gathered up the dregs that freeze hard to the freezer bowl and made miniature ice cream sandwiches with a couple of graham crackers. They were not the prettiest things, but it was a delicious taste test!