Can You Really Make Ice Cream In A Plastic Bag?

Ice Cream Custard

Can a mere plastic bag transform this custard into ice cream?

I must not have been the only person who was struck by this New York Times article on how to make your own ice cream using nothing more than the power of salt water (yes, you heard that right, salt water) and the technology of plastic bags. I was less impressed by the chemistry behind how the low freezing temperature of salt water can be used to freeze custard, and much more excited about the prospect of making my own ice cream, sans an expensive and space-stealing ice cream maker.

To me having your own ice cream maker is the height of appliance extravagance. You can justify a Kitchen Aid Mixer (No really, you can. I can make my own bread—and bread is the staff of life!). You can justify a Cuisinart (I can grind my own hamburger, instantly grate cheese, and chop herbs!). But ice cream? It’s not exactly a life-sustaining food.

Still, the thought of being able to whip up a batch anytime I want, perhaps to show off the flavors of seasonal produce or to fill a batch of profiteroles, is appealing. And, I’ll be honest—serving up a batch of my own homemade ice cream at my next dinner party appeals to my deep desire to show off.

But does it work?

Step one was to make my custard. I used this Epicurious recipe for Honey Lavender ice cream—since I, um, overbought for my birthday cake and had plenty of these ingredients sitting around. I will say that the ice cream had a bit of a strange flavor. I think next time I would use a little less lavender, as it reminds me too much of soap

I let the custard cool, and then poured it into a one gallon freezer bag.

Ice cream in a bag

Custard in the plastic bag.

While the custard was cooling, I made my salty sludge. I must say that I was at a disadvantage here, because I didn’t quite realize that I would need a lot of extra ice for this recipe. Of course, our refrigerator doesn’t have an ice maker; in fact, it can just barely keep the milk cold.

I ended up putting the ice cubes I had in a ceramic bowl and sticking them in the freezer while I froze up another batch of cubes. This would have been fine except the ice cubes froze to the bottom of the bowl in a solid mass. Not so good. I guess that’s why the recipe says to use a plastic bowl. I see, I see.

The salt-water ice bath ended up being more like a rock-hard layer of ice, and then a smattering of salty ice on top of the ice cream bag.

Freezing Ice Cream

The meager salt-water ice bath.

Still, even in these less-than-idea circumstances, the custard started to freeze and take on a soupy-ice-cream-like texture. As the recipe suggested, I took the bag out of the salt-water bath and massaged it a couple times after fifteen minute intervals. After a couple of these massaging session, I stuck the bag in the freezer. I realize now that the recipe said to stick the whole bowl into the freezer, which may have made my ice cream a bit creamier and a bit less rock-hard.

The end result is that I made ice cream that tasted okay, if a bit too heavy on the lavender. And, actually, I think if I left it out to soften before I scooped it it would be passable texture wise, since it was almost impossible to scoop straight from the bag. It definitely didn’t have the same creamy texture as ice cream made in an electric mixer, or even an old-fashioned churn.

Finished Ice Cream!

Finished ice cream. It was hard to scoop so it's not too pretty.

Still, the possibilities are there—I think I just have to iron out the kinks in my process. Next time I think I will try to massage the bag more regularly to soften the texture, and let it soften before I scoop it.

But who knows—before long maybe I’ll be serving homemade ice cream at a dinner party.

No fancy ice cream maker required.



  1. alice said

    I’ve made that ice-cream recipe before, the taste was a bit odd for me too. I think it may have had something to do with letting the custard cook too much, but then again it was the taste and not the texture that was funky. The color was also quite unattractive.

    I would debate you about the ice-cream maker though. There’s nothing quite like homemade ice-cream, and a good machine is really the best way to achieve that. You can chop and dice and mix by hand, but you can’t aerate and freeze at the same time, by hand. I think my prejudice has something to do with having an ice-cream maker growing up… we did have the Kitchen-Aid and Cuisinart too though, and I do miss those…

  2. wonktheplank said

    What about the Cones?

  3. moderndomestic said

    Oh no! I didn’t make the ice cream cones!?

    But I don’t think I could make them in a plastic bag . . .

  4. moderndomestic said

    Alice-what was up with that recipe?! I’m glad to know someone else had a problem with it. There was something about the flavors that were just . . . off. The lavender was too much and the honey just didn’t set it off right. I wonder if using a better quality of lavender would have helped (I just got mine at the cost-plus world market) . . .

  5. Joellen said

    This sounds like fun, but you will have to keep me informed about how your next attempt goes. I think I like reading about what you do more than I like doing it myself. 🙂

    Maybe you can make it for our next Star Trek party.

  6. alice said

    The lavender was too strong, not delicate and tasty, just heavy. I had a lavender honey ice-cream in Seattle once that was incredible, light, crisp taste, very refreshing. Wonder what they did differently? Maybe it would work better not as a custard base, just a regular cream base?

  7. Bonnie (AKA Mom) said

    Who said ice cream isn’t a life sustaining food! We have two ice cream makers at our house, the Donvier and the White Mountain hand cranked, and I’m considering getting a newer electric one as well.

    Speaking of ice cream, has anyone tried the Hagen Daaz Fleur de Sel Caramel flavor yet? It’s probably the best commercial ice cream on the market.

  8. moderndomestic said

    I remember the old White Mountain ice cream maker! But we barely used the Donvier – like, I only remember using it a handful of times. Remember when we got you the electric ice cream maker that could barely churn? I think we had to return that because it seriously didn’t work.

    I haven’t tried the Fleur de Sel ice cream yet, but mmm, that sounds really good. Maybe I can convince WonkthePlank to let me get some this weekend.

  9. […] a domestic hypocrite! I’ve railed against ice cream makers in the past – I called them “the height of appliance extravagance.” How can she possibly welcome such a thing into her […]

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