Great Homemade Ice Cream in 4 Easy Steps

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Tired of overpaying for frozen treats? Here's a quick way to make custom flavors with no special tools and cheap ingredients.

Happy National Ice Cream Month! I know, it sounds like another celebration made up by an industry – but Congress and President Reagan actually declared it in 1984.

Congress also created a National Ice Cream Day, which falls this Sunday, July 15 – probably a good day for freebies. But that holiday should not be confused with the flavor-discriminating National Chocolate Ice Cream Day, which falls on June 7, and which nobody seems to know the origin of.

(The earliest reference I located was a 1999 article in the now-defunct Cincinnati Enquirer, which, like everything else I found, didn’t explain it. Maybe that’s the holiday the industry made up.)

Regardless, this is the officially government-sanctioned month to party with frozen dairy, and the California Milk Advisory Board wants you to know it. (And also that they’re the biggest ice cream-producing state, at 142 million gallons per year.) That’s why the CMAB commissioned a survey asking more than 1,000 people where they eat ice cream. Women are apparently more likely than men to enjoy a frozen treat in bed, while young adults are more likely than others to eat a scoop on the couch.

While the survey is silly, it sure made me want some ice cream – and it reminded me of the time when I made my own in a middle-school science class. Back then, we used a method similar to The’s bag method, but I figured there had to be a simpler way. After running across Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten recipe for vanilla ice cream archived by the Library of Congress, I found one on that sounded pretty tasty, and decided to give it a try…

The recipe


  • Heavy whipping cream (2 cups)
  • Sweetened condensed milk (14 oz.)
  • Whatever mix-ins you prefer – vanilla extract, peanut butter, nuts, fruit chunks, brownie bits, crushed Oreos…


  1. After the heavy cream has been refrigerated at least 12 hours, whip the cold heavy cream in a bowl until you can lift the whisk and see a stiff, peaked glob at the end.
  2. Pour the condensed milk into a separate bowl and add whatever toppings you’ve dreamed up to make your favorite flavor. The site lists recipes for everything from “cinnamon bun” flavor to “hazelnut mocha fudge swirl,” and with a little research and experimentation you can probably recreate anything you see in stores.
  3. Add the whipped cream into the mix.
  4. Pour it all into a 2-quart Tupperware container and freeze it for six hours. Enjoy.

The recipe makes about 1.5 quarts, the standard size for store-bought cartons. I tried the cinnamon bun flavor last weekend, because I already had the other necessary ingredients: vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, and butter. (I also threw in some mini-marshmallows.)

How it stacks up to store-bought

Maybe this is a bit of culinary pride talking, but I thought it tasted way better than the store brands I’ve had. I scribbled down name-brand prices and did some math, and it’s significantly cheaper than Edy’s or Breyers, too.

My store has four brands of sweetened condensed milk, ranging from $1.79 to $2.59 for 14 ounces. I originally went with the recipe’s recommended Eagle Brand, which was $2.39 – but next time I’ll try the cheapest.

For the heavy cream, I only saw three options: the store brand in two sizes ($2.95 for a pint and $5.39 for a quart), and Organic Valley ($3.49 a pint). I bought the smaller store brand because I wasn’t sure I’d like this stuff, but next time I’ll go for the value size.

Of course, there’s a whole aisle of ice cream to choose from, but I picked out some of the more popular brand names. Some come in half-gallon or pint sizes and thus cost more or less than what the chart below says, but I wanted to keep things simple. I standardized the price to what 1.5 quarts would cost for an easy comparison to the best value homemade stuff. So, for instance, two cans of Iberia condensed milk plus the quart-size heavy cream makes 3 quarts for $8.97. Divide by two and round to get the standardized price of $4.49 for 1.5 quarts. Here’s how the rest look…

Brand Price (1.5 quarts)
Store’s $3.58 (20% less)
Homemade $4.49
Blue Bell $5.24 (17% more)
Valentini $5.29 (18% more)
Breyers $6.17 (37% more)
Edy’s $6.19 (38% more)
Ben & Jerry’s $14.85 (231% more)
Häagen-Dazs $17.11 (281% more)

I can’t claim my ice cream was better than Ben & Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs, because I never buy those expensive brands (about $5 a pint) and haven’t tried them. But I like it better than the rest. The basic mix is a better value than all of them except the store’s brand, and obviously beats paying for a few scoops at the ice cream parlor. However, the caveat here is how much you spend on ingredients to make the flavor you want – if you go gourmet, maybe it’s no longer such a sweet deal.

By the way, I found plenty of recipes and no-ice-cream-maker methods online, but this was definitely the simplest – four steps, six hours of wait time, few ingredients, and no special tools. It’s much less messy than the bag method, although (speaking from experience) that can be fun for kids. And while it takes three hours longer than David Lebovitz’s tedious freeze-stir-freeze-stir method, it’s much less work – just set and forget. If you’ve got a food processor and ice trays, I’d recommend checking out a detailed online guide that explains the science of making ice cream.

What’s your favorite ice cream flavor, homemade or otherwise? Share on our Facebook page and make your friends hungry.

Stacy Johnson

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