Rugulah ice cream sundae

I was all set to write about baking bread today. Then I read that there’s a shortage of flour and yeast. What??? It seems that Americans everywhere have become obsessed with baking, especially sourdough baking, and this is causing shortages in grocery stores. I was vaguely aware of this – it’s hard to avoid all the pictures of homebaked everything on Facebook, and a friend just send me some desiccated sourdough starter of my very own – but it wasn’t until today that I encountered the term “flour privilege.” Millie would be horrified.

I guess I’m one of the privileged, entirely by accident. I buy my flour in bulk and have for years. I have two canisters that hold 25 lbs. of flour each, one for white and one for whole wheat, the latter of which I recently loaned to a good friend when we split a 50-lb. bag of bread flour. My whole wheat now resides in a 10-lb. container, and it’s still a little more than half full after the four loaves of bread my elder daughter made today. I just ordered 20 lbs. of rye flour (a four-pack of 5-lb. bags because I don’t go through it as quickly). And yes, I also buy yeast in bulk, usually in 1-lb. packages, and have been sharing it with friends as well.

It hadn’t occurred to me that some people might be having trouble finding yeast in the stores, or even basic flour, and I don’t want to flaunt my flour privilege! Instead, let’s make something that requires no flour or yeast at all and teaches us a little science along the way: ice cream.

Wait! you say. Don’t you need an ice cream maker for that? Well, spoiler, I have one of those, but it’s not necessary. Ice cream needs no technology more advanced than zippered plastic bags and eager, energetic children. If you have those and a few simple ingredients, you are all set.

Ice Cream in a Bag

  • 1 cup half and half (or 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup cream)
  • 1.5 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • ice
  • 1/4 cup salt (rock salt is best, or at least cheapest, but any salt will do)
  • Zippered plastic bags, 1 small and 1 large

Place the first three ingredients in the small zippered bag and seal it well, squeezing out as much excess air as possible while you seal it. This is important. If your bag doesn’t seal well, or if it pops open because it has too much air in it, you will end up with yucky, salty ice cream. You can try double-bagging it or adding some duct tape to make certain it stays shut.

Place the ice and salt in the large zippered bag, then add in the VERY WELL-SEALED small zippered bag. Seal the large zippered bag as well.

Convince your excited, enthusiastic children who have been cooped up for entirely too long to put on their warm winter gloves. They will look at you like you’ve gone insane, but that’s all right. Most children will do just about anything for ice cream. Once they’ve got their gloves on, hand them the bag and tell them to shake it HARD until the liquid turns mostly solid. If your children are very young, I recommend that you do this outside, just in case. Note: they will get impatient. They will whine and complain that they’re tired and they want the ice cream RIGHT NOW. Point out that the longer they shake it, the better it will taste.

Eventually, the cream will, in fact, solidify, and you’ll get about two small servings of ice cream out of it. I recommend cutting one corner of the very well-sealed bag and squeezing it out like soft serve as this is much less messy and awkward than trying to spoon it out of the bag. Best of all, your children will be tired enough from all that shaking to offset the sugar rush they’re about to get from the ice cream.

And now, SCIENCE!

What? Despite all my warnings, the salt got into your ice cream, and it tastes disgusting? You want to know why we needed the salt in the first place? Well, I am so glad you asked me that!

Salt makes ice colder.

Wait, you don’t believe me? After all, we use salt to make ice melt on sidewalks, right? Doesn’t that make ice warmer?

Actually, that’s not exactly what happens. Salt lowers the temperature at which water freezes. Water usually freezes at 32 degrees F, but milk and cream won’t freeze until they’re even colder. When you add salt to the ice, some of the ice will melt, but the mix of this water and the remaining ice will get even colder, cold enough to freeze the cream. This is why your kids need their gloves – the bag will get very cold! And this is why they need to keep shaking the bag, to circulate the cold slushy mix around the smaller bag and also to keep ice crystals from forming inside the cream, the way it does when you try to refreeze melted ice cream.

See! You’ve just taught your kids the concept of melting points and conned them into making their own dessert. YOU ROCK! If you’d like to try this again while channeling your inner PE coach as well, you can purchase an ice cream kick ball, which the kids can kick all around the yard to make their ice cream. I do recommend buying rock salt along with it. It’s much less expensive, though it has impurities that make it even nastier to eat. Fortunately, the kick ball is much better at keeping the salt out of the ice cream.

(Psst! Kids! This is a fantastic way to convince parents to let you eat ice cream pretty much any time! Just tell them you’re learning science and getting exercise at the same time. Then tell them they’re epic for being such cool parents.)

If you’re still disappointed because you don’t have any yeast and can’t make bread, here’s an Irish soda bread recipe (don’t worry, there’s a smaller version of the recipe so you don’t end up making enough for 250 people). And if you have no flour at all, here’s a great Swedish cake recipe made with mashed potatoes and ground almonds.