Nigella Lawson’s no-churn ice cream is the only recipe worth your time
This week, Out of Office is celebrating all things ice cream. Follow along as we explore the sweet history and unexpected influences of America’s favorite dessert.
More than any other season, we associate summer with taking a long, much-needed break from quotidian drudge. That’s likely why traditional summer recipes — grilled meats, lemonades and the like — promise cooks you’ll get the most by doing the least.
There is, unfortunately, one notable exception to this rule: homemade ice cream.
A great many barriers stand between casual home cooks and fresh ice cream, and almost none of them have to do with refinement of technique. Making ice cream requires little more than heating, stirring and setting — but most recipes worth their salt need clunky, expensive equipment and lots and lots of foresight.
All affordable ice cream makers require you to freeze their chambers overnight, before you get cooking. On top of that, most recipes require an additional overnight freeze, putting as much as two days between you and dessert. And time commitment aside, most ice cream makers have small chambers and only make a few servings at a time.
That’s where the sub-genre of no-churn ice cream come in, but most of them create more problems than they solve. No-churn ice cream recipes all promise the same thing: immediate, effortless dessert. But they come with the same disclaimers every time: “This freezes hard. Eat it quickly or else it’ll turn into a block of ice.”
Dessert shouldn’t be a time bomb. You deserve to relax. Thankfully, British domestic goddess Nigella Lawson has the solution.
In her book Nigellisima, Lawson shares a recipe for coffee ice cream that puts the seemingly impossible — a maker-free ice cream recipe with the proper texture — within the grasp of even the most unseasoned home cooks. One bite and I was transported back to Rome, where I traveled one winter to “find myself” after a heartbreak and found instead granita di caffe con panna, a blend of strong, frozen coffee and sweet, fresh cream so completely rapturous that for a few brief moments, I forgot his name — and then my own.
In that coffee shop in Rome, I ate the dessert with a small spoon. Lawson draws her inspiration from Southern Italy, where ice cream is stuffed between wedges of buttery brioche buns. She recommends you serve her coffee ice cream that way, too, but it’s impossible to go wrong here.
Lawson’s foolproof take on no-churn ice cream is as much gastronomy as it is alchemy. The bitterness of the instant espresso powder (no other coffee substitute will do) tempers the cloy of sweetened condensed milk; the alcohol in the espresso liqueur slows the freezing of the milk, preventing your ice cream from becoming an iceberg.
In her book, Lawson wrote that she was “almost embarrassed at how easy this is” to make, but its miraculous simplicity should be exalted, not scorned. When I first made this recipe, I was almost bewildered by its simplicity and certain all the corners I was cutting would yield an inferior product or, at best, a worthy substitute. Not so. This is not only ice cream — it is among the best bites of ice cream out there, and certainly the best I’ve ever made myself. Other food writers have similar love affairs with this recipe.
Bree Hester, author of the food blog BakedBree, praised its taste and “amazing velvety texture” in an email, saying that after she made and tasted it, she would “never doubt that Nigella will point me in the direction of something worth indulging in.” In addition to applauding its “lovely taste,” food writer Linda Ditch emailed to say that she loves Lawson’s recipe because it doesn’t rely on a clunky ice cream maker, thereby freeing up precious kitchen counter and freezer space.
Kristen Miglore, creative director of Food52, praised the recipe “not only because it brings ice cream within reach for cooks who don’t have ice cream makers, but because other desserts that require ice cream are closer, too: ice cream cakes, bombes, mud pies, baked Alaska, spumoni.”
It may seem hyperbolic to call a coffee ice cream recipe revolutionary; for our purposes, delicious will have to do.
One-step no-churn coffee ice cream
Adapted slightly from Nigella Lawson’s Nigellisima
Makes 1 1/2 pints
1 1/4 cups (300 milliliters) heavy or double cream, well-chilled
1. Whisk all the ingredients together just until the whisk leaves trails of soft peaks in the bowl, and you have a gorgeous, caffe-latte-colored airy mixture.
2. Fill two 500-milliliter or two 1-pint airtight containers, and freeze for 6 hours or overnight. Serve straight from the freezer.
Enjoy it drizzled with dark chocolate sauce, in between slices of brioche or atop carbonated cold brew as a sort of iced coffee float on those weekend mornings where you’re savoring a well-deserved summer break.
Reprinted with permission from Food52.