You've probably had it a hundred times, even if you've never heard its name: Philadelphia ice cream. Which has nothing to do with the city of Philadelphia, except for the city's once sterling reputation in America's post-colonial era as a place where fantastic, high quality ice cream roamed the Earth. All it means is ice cream made without eggs. But that nugget of a recipe detail makes it the perfect gateway to making ice cream at home. How does fresh, fluffy, creamy ice cream in 30 minutes sound? Good? Okay, let's dig deeper.
Since it lacks eggs, and thus doesn't require any heat, Philly ice cream is especially good with bright, crisp flavors: mint, strawberry, citrus. And what it lacks in custardy richness, it makes up in dairy-forward brilliance, allowing you to really taste the fresh cream and milk you put into it. All you have to do is mix cold cream, milk, sugar, salt, and your chosen flavorings until the sugar dissolves, then stick it in an ice cream maker. In half an hour, you have amazing soft serve, billowy and cloud-like and perfect. Store it in the freezer for 3 to 4 hours and you have perfect hard-pack ice cream.
For your first go, keep it simple with a couple shots of vanilla extract to see just how good homemade vanilla ice cream can be. But then go and explore your spice cabinet. Cinnamon's a great choice, as is citrus zest. Muddle some mint leaves, let them steep in your chilled base for a couple hours, and you'll be rewarded with a delicately perfumed ice cream that needs nothing but some chocolate chips. Then look to your bar.
When you think about it, there's not much difference, baking-wise, between booze and baking extracts. Both involve potent aromatics dissolved in alcohol, and both can lend dramatic, complex flavors to ice cream. Scotch and rum are lovely additions, but my new favorite is cocktail bitters, which at this point come in a cornucopia of flavors, many of which are perfect in ice cream. I'm a particular fan of orange, Peychaud's, Angostura, and—because the SAVEUR test kitchen has it, because of course it does—saffron, for a unique can't-put-your-finger-on-it deliciousness.
The only downside of this ice cream: Its delicate, ephemeral nature means it also doesn't last. It's at its fluffy, creamy best the day it's made. From there, you have a day or two of great texture before it starts icing up (still tasty, just rough around the edges). For me that's no problem—having to down your ice cream in a couple days is more like a fun, challenging feature than a bug. But if you want to improve the longevity of your Philadelphia ice cream, do as dairy queen Dana Cree does and simmer your base on the stove to more fully dissolve the sugar in the cream and milk, unfurl some dairy proteins, and then add a little bit of texture enhancement with guar gum, glucose, or a dash of ice cream stabilizer. It's a more complicated method, but it works like a dream.
However you make your Philly ice cream, go forth and make it now. You'll be eating it in half an hour.