Note: The above photo is not of my two-ingredient ice cream, which was much too ugly to share with the world. This is what ice cream should look like. My ice cream did not.
If you’ve crawled out from under your rock and checked Facebook recently, you’ve probably got a friend or two who shared Buzzfeed’s latest viral success. The short video, titled “The Easiest Way To Make Ice Cream,” was published just over a week ago. It depicts an irresistibly simple way to make ice cream at home. No ice cream maker, rock salt, or elbow grease needed—just sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and a little time.
If you haven’t heard, Texas is in a sort of ice cream crisis. Our national (yes, national) ice cream is Blue Bell, and they’ve been forced to recall all of their products and shut down their factories in response to a terrible listeria outbreak. In the absence of Blue Bell, frozen dairy addicts were forced to settle for lesser brands. Or, even worse, make it themselves in one of those pain-in-the-ass ice cream freezers. The manual crank may have been updated, but freezing your own ice cream can be a messy and tedious task.
Which is probably why Buzzfeed’s video was so popular, even with people who aren’t living with an ice cream shortage. The thought of having ice cream on demand was so seductive for me that I made a special trip to the grocery store just to pick up the ingredients. In addition to the required sweetened condensed milk and cream, I picked up a bar of Belgian milk chocolate, which would be chopped and added into the final product before freezing. Individually, sweetened condensed milk, heavy cream, and $4-a-bar Belgian chocolate are delicious. Together, they are unfathomably terrible.
The making of the two-ingredient ice cream was easy enough, thanks to my KitchenAid stand mixer. I used it to whip the cream to soft peaks before adding the sweetened condensed milk, as directed in the video. Once mixed, I scraped the “ice cream” into a plastic container, covered it with an air-tight lid, and set a timer for six hours, when the ice cream would be set. I dreamed of sundaes, and making ice cream whenever I pleased. Then, I thought myself to be pretty damn successful, even though I’d barely managed to brush my hair or prepare an actual dinner.
When the alarm on my cell phone went off at 11 p.m., a perfectly reasonable hour for ice cream, I immediately pulled it from the freezer and scooped up a bowl. It scooped like ice cream, which seemed like visual confirmation that this perhaps too easy process had been a total success. Even the first spoonful, explosion of sugar and fat that it was, wasn’t even that bad. But after two, or three, it became clear that this “ice cream” was just a sweet, creamy lie.
Apparently, my definition of “soft peaks” is different than that of the fine people at Buzzfeed. The heavy cream had the consistency of butter after a few hours in the freezer, and coated my tongue in a fine film of straight-up fat. Not in the good way, either. The sweetened condensed milk gave the mixture a sort of artificial, Cool Whip flavor, which is a real bummer when you’re expecting the kind of fully emulsified richness that should come from sixteen ounces of heavy cream.
This ice cream somehow managed to get worse as it chilled in the freezer. Overnight, it turned into a hard, impossible-to-scoop glob of fat and waxy, flavorless chocolate. A few minutes on the counter couldn’t save the texture, and I may have resorted to eating it from the container with a fork. Apparently, at least two thirds of the container was the amount of testing required to fully decide that my ice cream was inedible. If anything, I am thorough.
If there is one lesson that I have learned in this tragic ice cream disaster, it is the importance of stirring. Stirring, or agitation of any kind, really, is crucial to the development of the velvety, custard-y texture that you expect in good ice cream. The fat in the cream prevents the mixture from freezing totally solid, but there’s still no air in those layers once the “ice cream” has settled in for a few hours. Even if my finished product had actually tasted like ice cream, and it did sort of have a cheap, grocery store brand-style flavor, the texture would have been enough to send the rest of the container straight into the garbage.
Perhaps there is some way to make this recipe great. When I lamented my failure to food-loving friends, some suggested mixing a teaspoon or two of vodka into the mix to keep the ice cream from getting too cold. Others said that I should have mixed the ice cream with a spoon every hour for better texture. Instead, I think I’ll just have a shot (or two) of vodka and eat some store-bought ice cream straight from the container with that spoon.
There are just some foods—bread, barbecue, and apparently ice cream, that require time and effort. The “set it and forget it” method just does not apply to rich and creamy frozen desserts, no matter how much time you want to save. This is not to say that this ice cream isn’t serviceable in the event of, say, a massive zombie attack, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Or that there are at least a few containers of gelato on the shelf when you raid the grocery store.
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. She is apparently really bad at making ice cream. Tweet her your kitchen failures @aemccarthy.