Food & Drinks

You Don’t Need to Pay $12 for Mac and Cheese Ice Cream. Make It Yourself Instead.

A few nights ago, I had the pleasure of stopping by Palizzi Social Club — a hundred-year-old members-only Italian spot in South Philly — for an after-dinner drink. At the bar, in between rounds, my friend suggested that since we’d already eaten, we should order Palizzi’s famous dessert instead. Soon after, we were digging into a big old slice of Mom’s Ricotta Cheese Pie: rich, crumbly, tangy, salty, and sweet, with an almost-savory almond crust. With an Amarena cherry on top, the pie — a dessert complemented by the savory flavor and creamy texture of cheese — was the perfect nightcap.

Cheese and sugar — or creamy richness amplified by sweetness — is a match made in heaven, but you wouldn’t know that based on the indignation people registered when Van Leeuwen announced its limited-edition Kraft macaroni and cheese ice cream. The chorus of voices reacted with confusion and revulsion and even outrage. “Cheese ice cream?” Hoda Kotb said with a grimace on the show she co-hosts with Jenna Bush Hager. Kotb visibly winced as she tasted it, adding, “It’s just not ringing my bell.” Stephen Colbert was more equivocal, saying coyly, “It’s happening.” The Cut, on the other hand, wrote what many people were thinking: “This Is What Greets You at the Gates of Hell.”

It’s strange that the combination of cheese and sugar seems to inspire such derision. What’s not to love about a rich, salty ingredient gussied up for an after-dinner sweet course?

Consider the best-known of the cheese desserts: the cheesecake. Most are made with actual pounds of cream cheese and cups of sugar and little else beside eggs, but you rarely hear people complain that cheesecake is the devil’s dish. Then there are the rich ricotta pies, the delightful cannoli, the tangy cheese blintzes covered in fruit preserves — nothing to see here but delicious treats for all occasions. Have you ever had fruit and cottage cheese for breakfast? Have you ever enjoyed a slice of baked brie with raspberry jam at a cocktail party? For holidays, do you not eat apple pie made with cheddar cheese? Or cardamom-flavored ras malai? Or hot melty kanafeh covered in shredded crispy phyllo pastry and sweet rose syrup? Cheese shows up in dozens of desserts and cultures, and that’s because rich, cheesy things taste good when they’re made a little sweeter.

People save a very particular kind of revulsion for any ingredient that is conspicuously savory or otherwise controversial in ice cream. In the early aughts, when scoop shops in the U.S. started to experiment with flavors like corn and green tea, there were similar expressions of doubt and confusion. But ice cream — by dint of its dairy-forward ingredients alone — is the perfect foundation for the rich, sharp complement of cheese. Ice cream can be too saccharine and one-note, and cheese provides a savory balance to its potentially cloying sweetness. In the Philippines, brands like Magnolia and Selecta make cheese and ube ice cream and cheese and corn ice cream, sometimes with real cubes of cheese mixed in. In Mexican cuisine, there are recipes for queso fresco ice cream that play up the sharp, salty flavors of goat’s and cow’s milk. Even the American brand Cold Stone Creamery sells a kind of cheese ice cream: Their cheesecake variety is made with cream cheese flavoring, whatever that means.

It’s understandable that mac and cheese would seem out of place in ice cream, especially if you think there are actual pieces of noodle in it (which there aren’t) — but don’t knock it until you try it. Like cheesecake, ricotta pie, blintzes, and the countless other cheese desserts we all enjoy at other times and in other places, once you taste it or make it yourself, you may realize that actually, it makes perfect sense. Here are two ways to try it:

Mac and Cheese Ice Cream Recipe

Yields approximately 1 quart

Ingredients:

1¾ cups heavy cream
1¼ cup whole milk
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup light corn syrup
⅛ teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
2 packets of Kraft macaroni and cheese powder

Instructions:

Step 1: Combine heavy cream, whole milk, ¼ cup sugar, corn syrup, salt, and cheese powder in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high for 5 to 7 minutes, whisking frequently until milk is steaming or the temperature reaches 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Step 2: While the mixture heats, whisk egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar in a medium-sized heatproof bowl until thoroughly combined. Keep whisking until you have a light-yellow mixture. Don’t do this step too far in advance, as the sugar will burn the eggs, causing the protein to clump together — if this happens, it’s irreversible and best to start over.

Step 3: Remove hot cream from heat and pour about a third of the mixture in a steady stream over the egg yolks, whisking constantly. This is the tempering stage; failing to whisk the egg mixture will cook the egg yolk and cause it to have irregular lumps.

Step 4: Pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan and return to the stove, cooking over medium-low heat until the temperature reaches 170 degrees, or when the mixture coats the back of a spoon.

Step 5: Immediately remove from heat and place bowl in an ice bath, stirring to cool the mixture down. The mixture will taste sweet, but the sweetness will mellow as it cools.

Step 6: Cover and refrigerate until cold.

Step 7: Strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve, then transfer to an ice cream maker. Churn until the mixture resembles soft serve, about 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the make of your machine. Make sure not to over-churn. This will cause the ice cream to become dense.

Step 8: Freeze until firm, 4 hours or preferably overnight.


Three scoops of white cheddar flavored ice cream in a bowl with a rosemary sprig as garnish.

Herbed White Cheddar Mac and Cheese Ice Cream Recipe

Yields approximately 1 quart

Ingredients:

1¾ cups heavy cream
1¼ cups whole milk
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup light corn syrup
⅛ teaspoon salt
4 large egg yolks
2 packets of Annie’s Shells & White Cheddar cheese powder
10 sprigs fresh sage, or 6 sprigs fresh rosemary, or ¼ cup of whole black peppercorns (optional)

Instructions:

Step 1: Combine heavy cream, whole milk, ¼ cup sugar, corn syrup, salt, cheese powder, and optional herbs or peppercorns in a medium saucepan. Heat over medium-high for 5 to 7 minutes, whisking frequently until milk is steaming or the temperature reaches 175 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

Step 2: While the mixture heats, whisk egg yolks and remaining ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium-sized heatproof bowl until thoroughly combined. Keep whisking until you have a light-yellow mixture. Don’t do this step too far in advance as the sugar will burn the eggs, causing the protein to clump together — if this happens, it’s irreversible and best to start over.

Step 3: Remove hot cream from heat and pour about a third of the mixture in a steady stream over the egg yolks, whisking constantly. This is the tempering stage; failing to whisk the egg mixture will cook the yolk and cause it to have irregular lumps.

Step 4: Pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan and return to the stove, cooking over medium-low heat until the temperature reaches 170 degrees, or when the mixture coats the back of a spoon.

Step 5: Immediately remove from heat and place bowl in an ice bath, stirring to cool the mixture down.

Step 6: Cover and refrigerate until cold. When cold, taste the mixture — if the flavor of the herbs hasn’t fully absorbed to your taste, add additional sprigs to taste and leave the mixture in fridge for 12 additional hours.

Step 7: Strain custard through a fine-mesh sieve, then transfer to an ice cream maker. Churn until mixture resembles soft serve, about 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the make of your machine. Make sure not to over-churn, as this will cause the ice cream to become dense.

Step 8: Freeze until firm, 4 hours or preferably overnight.

Two bowls of ice cream alongside a box of Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Some ice cream-making tips:

Freeze a glass or metal container before pouring in the churned ice cream for storing in the freezer. This prevents the ice cream from melting. It becomes dense and hard if it melts.

It’s important to strain the custard through a double-meshed sieve or a splatter screen to remove any lumps that could get in the way when the custard is churning.

It’s very possible to make the custard base a day ahead before churning in an ice cream machine to ensure it is properly chilled.

Another good idea is to place a piece of wax or parchment paper over the ice cream’s surface to prevent contact with air, inhibiting freezer burn.

Always follow your ice cream machine’s manufacturer instructions. If you have a unit that uses a frozen bowl, freeze it overnight so it remains cold during the churning process.

Louiie Victa is a chef, recipe developer, food photographer, and stylist living in Las Vegas.
Recipes tested by Louiie Victa

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