Homemade ice cream is a wonderful treat, but you really do need an ice cream maker for the best and most consistent results. There are many affordable ice cream makers out there (and plenty of more expensive ones!) that will pay for themselves if you make ice cream yourself regularly. If you don’t make ice cream on a regular basis, however, you probably don’t want another appliance taking up valuable room in your kitchen. So, is it possible to make great ice cream at home without an ice cream maker? Yes, and the secret is to use dry ice.
Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide and it has a temperature of -109.3F (78.5C). It is primarily used for preserving ice cream and other frozen foods at very cold temperatures. For instance, it may be used to chill the interior of an ice cream cart on a hot day at the park so the popsicles don’t melt before they’re sold. It is also often added to Halloween punch because of the fog-like clouds that it generates when put into water or other liquids.
But how can you make ice cream with it?
Dy ice ice cream is made by crushing dry ice into as fine a powder as you can get it and then pouring the crushed ice into your ice cream base while vigorously stirring it. The crushed dry ice will disperse throughout the ice cream base very quickly, freezing the mixture as it is added. When you churn the mixture, it prevents the mixture from freezing solid and instead turns it into very creamy ice cream. Since dry ice is so cold, it can freeze an ice cream mixture rapidly and without forming any ice crystals, so the finished product has a very smooth texture. Dry ice also sublimates – meaning that it turns from a solid to a gas – very quickly when added to a liquid, so all of the dry ice used making the ice cream will sublimate into a cloud of fog while the ice cream churns and none will be left behind when your mixture is ready to eat.
The reason I recommend using dry ice is that it is inexpensive and very easy to find. It is easy to handle (although its extremely cold temperature can cause skin damage after prolonged exposure) and it makes amazing ice cream. Many of the grocery stores in my area stock it and you will probably use less than a couple of dollars’ worth of dry ice for each batch of ice cream. You may have heard of using liquid nitrogen to freeze ice cream on TV or even on some other blogs. What most of these shows don’t mention is that, while liquid nitrogen itself is inexpensive, the specially designed containers required to transport it can be incredibly expensive. It simply isn’t a practical thing for home chefs to use unless they have a friend with easy access to liquid nitrogen and the means to transport and store it safely.
The dry ice technique can be made using any flavor of ice cream. Follow the recipe of your choosing and, instead of pouring the mixture into an ice cream maker, break out your dry ice! If your recipe has mix-ins, such as chocolate chips, stir them in after churning the base. The easiest way to churn the ice cream is to mix everything in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on, but you can stir by hand without any problems (still takes about the same amount of time) if you have someone to help pour in the crushed dry ice. Once made, the dry ice ice cream will taste as though it has been slightly carbonated, but this passes very quickly as the gas leaves the ice cream. It can be served immediately or stored in an airtight container in the freezer as you would with other ice creams.
Place your dry ice in a large ziploc bag. Do not zip the bag completely shut. Cover bag with a dish towel and use a rolling pin (or meat mallet) to crush the ice into a fine, sandy powder. This requires a little muscle. All pieces should be smaller than a small pea.
Pour chilled ice cream base into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn mixer onto medium-low and gradually pour in the crushed dry ice.
Dry ice will “fog” and ice cream will begin to freeze. Pour in the dry ice slowly, and stop adding it as the ice cream freezes. Churn for 2-3 minutes.
Serve right away, or transfer to a freezer-safe container (let it sit out for 5-10 minutes to allow excess carbon dioxide to dissipate) with a lid and store.
*Note: The exact amount of dry ice you will need will vary. Most stores sell it by weight, but in large, oddly shaped chunks so it is difficult to get a very exact amount. You don’t really need an exact amount because a little too much dry ice isn’t going to matter in the long run. Watch the mixture as your ice cream churns and it will be easy to tell when it has reached the appropriate consistency and no longer needs additional ice.