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I'd like to say that every recipe I share on Serious Eats is the result of carefully crafted formulas conceived through meticulous testing, but occasionally, as with my ricotta cookies, I arrive at a recipe through a more technically advanced process that I like to call "Doofing Around the Kitchen."
This generally happens when I run out of some ingredient, but refuse to abandon the idea of dessert, forcing myself to make something from nothing, Rumpelstiltskin-style. (Like when I ran out of butter, but desperately needed chocolate chip cookies in my life.)
Which brings us to this recipe, a silky mascarpone ice cream inspired by the conspicuous lack of milk, cream, and sugar in my kitchen when I came home from a long trip.
What I wanted was ice cream, but what I had on hand was three eggs, a trickle of cream in the bottom of a carton, an unopened tub of mascarpone left over from a failed plan to make tiramisu, a scant half cup of sugar, and a handful of La Perruche brown sugar cubes from my bar.
In short: enough to squeak by with. And I'm so glad I did, because the mascarpone flavor shines through loud and clear, underscored by butterscotch-y notes of brown sugar, with a creamy, gelato-like texture.
To better explain how I arrived at certain ratios and substitutions, I'll walk through the logic of my experimental run, but the recipe itself is straightforward in terms of technique, and virtually identical to the processes for the no-churn ice creams I've already shared on Serious Eats.
Given the lack of milk in my kitchen on that fateful day, I ruled out traditional ice cream formulas in favor of my low-moisture no-churn vanilla ice cream.
That recipe gets its liquid content (and volume) from whole eggs, cooked over a water bath with sugar, then foamed up till fluffy and light, with a bit of whipped cream folded in at the end for richness. It has a texture much like that of store-bought vanilla ice cream: ultra airy and soft, with a custardy flavor backed by a hit of vanilla.
I didn't have quite enough sugar or cream for that recipe as written, but I managed to top off those quantities with the aforementioned brown sugar cubes and that tub of mascarpone. And so my plan emerged.
Truth be told, "topping off" the cream with mascarpone proved to be a slight understatement. The original recipe called for six ounces of cream, but I had only two. Rather than use four ounces of mascarpone to make up the difference—I was loath to hang on to half a container of mascarpone—I threw in the whole eight-ounce tub.
Given mascarpone's relatively low moisture content compared with cream, I knew it would make the ice cream richer, not icier. On the flip side, the added fat could certainly make the ice cream harder, warranting more sugar to lower the freezing point. Sugar that I didn't have.
So I rustled up that handful of brown sugar cubes from an ancient box stashed in our bar. (For those making this recipe on purpose, light brown sugar, turbinado, Demerara, jaggery, or any sort of raw sugar will work beautifully.)
Over a water bath, I warmed the whole eggs, sugar, and brown sugar to approximately 160°F (71°C), constantly stirring and scraping along the way. In the bowl of a stand mixer, this should take only about five minutes; a slower timeline simply means the heat needs to be adjusted.
Once the eggs come to temperature, they're whipped on a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until they're fluffy, thick, and pale. Intense aeration is what makes this no-churn ice cream possible, so pay closer attention to those visual and textural cues rather than to any given timeline, as the latter will vary from mixer to mixer.
When the eggs and sugar are thick enough to hold some very soft peaks for a few seconds (these will melt away after a bit, but that's okay), fold in the whipped cream. Or, in this case, the whipped mascarpone. Work gently, using an open balloon whisk or flexible spatula, taking care not to deflate the airy base.
After it's homogenized, scrape the "ice cream" into a nonreactive container, whether that's a small baking dish (great for scooping), a loaf pan, or an empty yogurt container. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly against the surface of the ice cream, then cover again with a sheet of foil. Together, these layers will help minimize exposure to any funky freezer odors.
The time it takes for the ice cream to freeze until it's firm enough to scoop will depend entirely on your freezer settings and the size/shape/material of the ice cream container, but expect to wait between six and eight hours—or less, if you'd enjoy a softer, gelato-like texture.
Thanks to the mascarpone, the ice cream has a strong cultured-dairy flavor that's quite lovely on its own, though it also shines when paired with fresh fruit, particularly berries and cherries. Or grab a biscuit and serve it à la mode for a peaches-and-cream shortcake.
Of course, the mellow complexity of mascarpone also makes this ice cream a natural match for any sort of Italian dessert, whether it's served over a slice of olive oil cake or doused in a shot of espresso for a sophisticated affogato.
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