How to Make Beer Ice Cream
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
It's tough to make a case for drinking thick, heavy porters and stouts during the sweltering summer months. So here's a better idea: Make ice cream with them.
Beer ice cream is nothing new; restaurants have been serving Guinness ice cream for years. Sweet, creamy beers like porters and stouts actually make for much better ice creams than, say, the lagers and ales that are more suitable to drink in warmer weather: Reducing the thick beers brings out dessert-like undertones, especially if you're working with an already sweet beer such as Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero (an imperial stout) or a Maui Imperial Coconut Porter.
Pastry chef and Fluff Bake Bar owner Rebecca Masson invited my boyfriend and me into her kitchen to show us how beer ice cream is made after we failed terribly at making our own at home. There are more than a few tricks and tips, it turns out, and the Cordon Bleu-educated chef showed us all of them, starting with this one:
"Don't pour the beer directly into your ice cream base," Masson advised as she set up two pots to boil, each one full of beer.
This is the first mistake we made, and it turned our otherwise lovely ice cream base into a pile of yeasty gloop that resembled dog food in both smell and texture.
Part of that problem, too, was the fact that we'd used an unsuitable beer: Stone SSR, which wasn't sweet or heavy enough.
Instead, we brought Masson two different beers for the second batch of ice cream: Coney Island's Barrel-Aged Human Blockhead and Widmer Brothers Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout.
"You can reduce the beer to half, but you don't have to," said Masson as she turned up the heat beneath the two pots of beer, sugar and corn syrup. What's important is that you bring the beer to a boil once -- "one big flare-up," Masson called it -- and then once more before moving on to the rest of the recipe.
But before you think that you can use any old ice cream recipe, think again.
Masson's recipe -- with amounts listed in grams -- requires a kitchen scale, so time to make that investment if you haven't already.
"Some pastry chefs have one ice cream recipe that they use for everything," Masson noted. "That doesn't make sense to me." Instead, she has several different recipes for ice creams that differ depending on what the main flavoring ingredient is; fresh fruit like pulpy peaches will set up entirely differently than beer will, she explained.
Masson recommends starting with David Lebovitz's seminal ice cream book, The Perfect Scoop, if you're an ice cream novice. But even seasoned pastry chefs like her still turn to the cookbook for recipe inspiration, such as the strawberry-sour cream ice cream that's one of Masson's favorites.
After the beer has been reduced, Masson adds milk and heavy cream to the pot. She then whisks egg yolks together with salt and vanilla to taste along with brown sugar. "Sugar cooks egg yolks," she noted as she whisked. "So you have to stir them right away. Don't let it sit."
One of the other mistakes that people frequently encounter while making ice cream is failing to temper the egg yolks before mixing them with the still-hot mixture of beer, milk and heavy cream. To avoid cooking the egg yolks by pouring the beer straight in, add the beer-milk mixture slowly and in small increments.
Once your beer-milk mixture has been entirely added to your egg yolks, Masson adds it back into the saucepan and cooks it over low heat, stirring all the time. She looks for what she calls "really ripply waves at first" to indicate that the mixture is thickening up enough. Sticking her finger into our batches of ice cream that day, she decided that both needed a bit more vanilla and salt -- both of which you can constantly add to taste.
Once the ice cream base has thickened up, it's time to pour the entire mixture through a strainer to remove any particulates such as egg shells -- "just in case," Masson says -- that could gum up your ice cream maker. She also further refines the creamy texture of her base with a hand mixer, but it isn't necessary.
Once the ice cream base is finished, Masson recommends allowing it to set up for at least a day or two. If that isn't possible and you want your beer ice cream immediately, go for it. I've heard great things from friends about this Cuisinart ice cream maker that's petite enough to sit on your counter, and it's stunningly cheap on Amazon right now.
We waited the two days recommended by Masson and were rewarded with some incredibly smooth, creamy, rich ice cream -- except for one problem. The beers we used still weren't sweet enough, making the ice creams into more of a savory, malty sort of dessert. I regretted not choosing Clown Shoes Chocolate Sombrero at Spec's, and vowed to try the recipe at a later date with a far sweeter brew.
That said, the ice creams themselves were still good. Masson recommended sandwiching them between two cookies to enhance the sweet maltiness -- preferably chocolate-covered -- which I promptly did. If you've never had a beer ice cream-HobNob sandwich? You're missing out.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.