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Why does my ice cream have a grainy texture?

  • m

I made two ice creams this weekend, one French vanilla based custard with cream, milk and egg yolks and the other was chocolate with whole eggs and 1/2 and 1/2.

I have the basic model Cuisinart
and the bowl had been frozen over 24 hours.

The bowl was quite full for each and I took it off at 25 minute mark and it was a bit slushy. Sort of soft peak whipped cream texture.

Any tips for ultra smooth ice cream would be most appreciated.

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  1. Make less at a time and don't let the machine run for so much. But bear in mind that homemade ice cream will never be as smooth as storebought, simply because you don't have a commercial power churning device.

    Martha Stewart's recipe for vanilla ice creas is pretty loved on this board, and my friends have said they like it better than Hagen Daaz despite the slightly less creamy texture (very slight).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Pei

      Homemade ice cream, with the right ingredients, can be as smooth as store bought. Soluble fiber gums like xanthan and guar (available in health food stores) promote smaller ice crystal formation. Invert sugar provides superior freezing point depression (with a lower freezing point you have less ice to make crystals). Lastly, lecithin is available to the home cook. Lecithin helps create a better emulsion, breaking down the water and fat into smaller units. With smaller units of water, you end up with smaller particles of ice.

      And yes, the less base in the machine, the faster it freezes. The faster it freezes, the smaller the ice crystals. I agree with you there.

    2. Was the custard cooked to around 170 degrees? If you undercook, the eggs don't bind to the other ingredients and your custard won't be smooth. If you overcook, the eggs become scrambled and dry and the mix will be curdled. I think either case will result in grainy ice cream.

      I usually take my custards off heat when they are around 160 and keep beating and watching the mix to make sure it's thickened and smooth.

      1. I think the slushiness gives it away...your bowl didn't stay cold enough. I would either reduce the batch size (perhaps by as much as 1/3, assuming your description of 'fullness' was at the start of the churn and not at the end), or check the temperature of your freezer to make sure the bowl is getting cold enough.

        1. I add a tablespoon of vodka to all frozen treats I make in my Cuisinart ice cream maker (my machine makes about a quart at a time). The alcohol in the vodka lowers the freezing point of the mixture so that there's more time to break down the crystals. The vodka imparts no flavor. I've heard that Cobasan, the whipped cream stabilizer, is a wonderful addition, but I don't have any in my pantry. I use a teaspoon of glucose instead. You could probably use corn syrup if you don't have glucose.

          1. someone can chime in here with the food science of this, but, if cream/milk isn't heated to a high enough temperature there is something in it (protein? enzyme? alien stowaways?) that makes for that familiar homemade bumpiness of ice cream. If you heat the milk/cream up to a good 170 or 180 then it "kills" whatever it is in the dairy products that inhibits its ability to get that creaminess to it and you get really smooth ice cream.

            On the heating of the milk - I heat it up to 185. but, and this is an important one - if it is a custard (i.e., egg) based one, you obviously have to do that before you add eggs, since they can't be taken much above 175 without getting eggy...

            Anyhow, not sure if that is what you are describing, but if it wasn't heated that high, it could be a culprit, as could be some of the other things people mentioned - like the freezer bowl not being cold enough, thus not able to churn properly.

            1 Reply
            1. re: adamclyde

              Bringing the milk/cream to a boil first changes the way it acts in ice cream.


              From Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking:

              "In boiling milk, unfolded lactoglobulin binds not to itself but to the capping-casein on the casein micelles, which remain separate; so denatured lactoglobulin doesn't coagulate. When denatured in acid conditions with relatively little casein around, as in cheese whey, lactoglobulin molecules do bind to each other and coagulate into little clots, which can be made into whey cheeses like true ricotta. Heat-denatured whey proteins are better than their native forms at stabilizing air bubbles in milk foams and ice crystals in ice creams; this is why milks and creams are usually cooked for these preparations (pp. 26, 43)."

            2. Interestingly enough I had two different temperatures on my custards. I overcooked the first one at 178 degrees according to digital thermometer. It was a little lumpy on the bottom, but I strained and didn't add the custard on the bottom of the pot.

              The second batch I relied on the back of the wooden spoon test. It was definitely not overcooked and if I guessed it was about 165 degrees.

              I'll go home and do a serious comparative taste test and see if there is significant difference.

              I suspect the bowl may have been a little too full, about 3/4 full on start up.
              Love the vodka idea, Dolce Vita.

              1. Another thought - how cold did you get your custard before you put it in the ice cream freezer?

                1. Cook your custard. Ice bath. Strain through fine mesh. Let rest/ripen/chill overnight in refrigerator. Spin to soft-serve consistency, harden in freezer.

                  1. Thanks for the replies. Upon tasting the two ice creams the undercooked egg custard definitely had a smoother texture, but not really smooth. And yes, both custards chilled overnight.

                    I will try and find some lecithin or Cobasan, any idea how much to add? Cook the custard less, try the vodka trick, boil the milk / cream before making the custard (Harold McGee shatters another food myth) and fill the bowl only 2/3's full. The last one hurts because you have to wait at least 24 hours for the thing to re-freeze.

                    Thanks again for your input.

                    1. about cooking the custard less, was it eggy? I'm thinking you actually may need to cook it more - but don't go a degree over 175...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: adamclyde

                        The first one went to 178. Definitely overcooked which I strained twice and then didn't use the bottom of the pot. The second one may have been a bit undercooked because I used the back of the wooden spoon test and a certain amount of paranoia after the first batch.

                        Interesting that McGee says you should boil the milk / cream before making the custard. I always thought you should scald it but never boil it. That's if I'm reading the scientific details correctly, not my forte.

                      2. Cobasan is just a mixture of sorbitol, a sugar alcohol, and glucose. It stabilizes whip cream the same way sugar does as sorbitol mimics the texture of sugar. In ice cream, it's not going to do that much. If xanthan gum or guar gum doesn't interest you, use some gelatin. Gelatin is what ice cream manufacturers used to use before gums came along.

                        1. I'm curious as to why you stopped it at 25 minutes? You should let the freezer run until it stops thickening. Usually it will go until the entire mixture is frozen to soft serve consistency (or until the little plastic dasher can't go anymore) and then you scoop it out and put it in the freezer to harden all the way. Sounds like you used the right ingredients - skimping on egg yolks or fat in the dairy can cause problems with homemade ice cream. It's fine as long as you eat it right away, but it crystallizes when it freezes solid.

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Alice Q

                            Hi Alice,
                            I stopped at 25 minutes because the recipe said that and I had read somewhere on the internet, maybe chowhound, that over churning could cause more crystals to form. Maybe I should stop believing everything I read on the net. I'll try churning it longer next time. Thanks.

                            I have never seen guar gum or xanthan gum for sale anywhere but I'll try checking out the health food / bulk food stores, and otherwise I'll try using some gelatin.
                            Thanks for the information.

                            1. re: Mila

                              A LOT of people on Chowhound recommend stopping the ice cream machine when it gets to a milkshake consistency... I'm still frustrated with ice cream making experiences, so I haven't experimented.

                              1. re: Katie Nell

                                I like to stop mine on the early side; I would describe it somewhere in between milkshake and softserve. Maybe a thick milkshake then. ;-)

                                I agree that some air is good, but too much air (esp. in sorbets or lower fat versions) can be deadly. Kills the vibrancy and texture for me. Makes it difficult to scoop.

                                All ice cream machines are different. Some say it's "done" when the dasher gets stuck and then reverses yet mine would never do that.

                                I say it's "done" when the flavor is not too potent nor too weak for my tastebuds and a creamy texture has formed all throughout (ie, no liquidy pockets). The freezer will do the rest...

                              2. re: Mila

                                The big variable here is that we just don't know how cold your freezer bowl really was. There ahve been times when my bowl either wasn't frozen long enough or was in a "warm" freezer (not below 0) and you get to a point when the bowl just isn't freezing the mixture any more. Instead, you can sometimes keep churning, but because the bowl isn't freezing any longer, then you actually may be melting your ice cream. Anyhow, just a thought. So... maybe it was smart to take it out after 25 minutes if nothing else was happening.

                                over churning doesn't cause more ice crystals to form. Quite the opposite. That said, over churning can be a problem too, by creating too much air, which impares mouthfeel and texture. That said, I find most consumer ice cream freezers unable to do too much damage in the overchurning space, since they usually shut off before it gets to that point.

                                1. re: adamclyde

                                  Overspinning also can lead to the same result as overwhipping cream: butter. Little fatty globules or worse.

                                  1. re: babette feasts

                                    that's true. though, not likely in most home consumer models. I could do that in my kitchen aid ice cream maker if I wanted, and I know some higher end ones could do that.

                                    gives a new meaning to butter pecan ice cream? :)

                            2. Mila, I just made my first batch of ice cream with the same model Cuisinart and got the same disappointing results: I used the recipe from last Wednesday's NY Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/04/din... which sounded great, followed the directions to a tee, and got an inedible batch of grainy, frozen pudding-like stuff. Keeping it frozen for 2 hours after churning did nothing to improve it. I regret the purchase of the ice cream maker now, and am wary about putting more time and expensive ingredients into a recipe destined for the dumpster.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Grosso

                                I really don't think it was the ice cream machine, unless the bowl wasn't as frozen as you'd like. All of these machines do, largely, the same job. It's either recipe or technique. That NY Times recipe won't ever be perfectly smooth, I don't think. First, a recipe like that is greatly aided by a custard-based ice cream as the eggs will help prevent the formation of large ice crystals (the "anti-smooth" texture). Second, chocolate is really finicky to work with. How it's melted, the type of chocolate, the manner in which it's all incorporated into the cream base all have implications into whether it makes a smooth ice cream or a chalky one.

                                1. re: adamclyde

                                  Thanks, Adam, I'll bear that in mind and give it one more try, perhaps with butter pecan, then it's back to Haagen Dazs!

                              2. I am looking for homemade ice cream that isn't grainy and in addition, does not leave a "slick" film in your mouth. I also, really don't want to add "commercial" additives, which, in my opinion, defeat the purpose of homemade ice cream. Having said that, I believe that the answer (other than vodka) lies somewhere else. I'd love to hear other opinions and if anyone has created the "perfect" homemade ice cream without a lot of additives, I would dearly love to hear it. Also, it is not necessary to go to a health food store to get Xanthan gum. It can be found in any food store that carries the Red Mills line of flours, grains, etc. Check it out....

                                  1. The more mix you put in the freezer bowl, the longer it will take to churn. If you are using a 2 litre bowl, don't use any more than 1.3 litres of mix.

                                    You also need to make sure that you have a high total solids content (milk fat, sugar, egg yolks, and non-fat milk solids). If your mix has a high water content, it will likely turn out grainy and slushy.


                                    Hope that helps!