I’ve always been one to try the most unusual thing on the menu, and when I was 14 that meant ordering a scoop of orange-clove ice cream at an ice cream shop. My friends warned that I’d hate it and chuck my cone immediately. But the fruity, spice-flecked ice cream not only kicked off my love for the aromatic flavor combo, it launched a 20-year obsession with making perfect ice cream at home.

Well, easier said than done. Anyone who’s made ice cream at home, myself included, will regale you with horror stories of icy, rock-hard pints, or pepper you with anecdotal advice about when to go with a Philadelphia-style base or a classic crème anglaise. Nope. I wanted something infallible.

When I Googled “orange-clove ice cream” a few years ago, expecting another fruitless search, a recipe popped up on a website called Milk Street, under a small sketch of Christopher Kimball. There it was, in the flavor variations—orange and clove—but the real treasure was the base recipe for Crème Fraîche and Honey Ice Cream.

This was something new: Milk Street had cracked the science behind unfailingly creamy ice cream. Here’s why it works.

Focus on freezing point
First, a review: What gives ice cream a nice mouthfeel? Air, fat and ice crystals. Your ice cream maker takes care of aerating your base while it freezes, but the composition of the base is key for determining the size of the ice crystals in your ice cream and pleasantly emulsifying the fat between them.

Large ice crystals, which form when the freezing point of your base is high and the freezing rate is low, give ice cream an icy, grainy feel on the tongue. Pass. But we figured out that honey and other substances like corn syrup actually lower the freezing point of the water in your base—a phenomenon called “freezing point depression.” That means smaller crystals when time comes to freeze.

Alcohol contributes to this, too. Just a tablespoon of vodka or bourbon, depending on which flavor of the base recipe you try, is enough to lower the base’s freezing point and allow the mixture’s fat to nicely emulsify among the other ingredients.

Crème, not cream
Crème fraîche is a rich, creamy cultured cream from France, and in this recipe, it behaves like the commercial stabilizers (think carrageenan or guar gum) that give premium store-bought ice cream their pleasant, long-lasting texture. How? The polysaccharides present in crème fraîche lower the base’s freezing point even further and bind free water molecules that would otherwise become big, pesky crystals.

Store the ice cream in a frozen container
Why hadn’t I thought of this? When transferring ice cream to a room-temperature or paper container, some of it inevitably warms up then refreezes icy. Opt to store the ice cream in a bowl or container you can pre-freeze (or, worst case, leave it in the freezing canister and transfer that to the freezer).

Let the ice cream freeze for at least eight hours
The four to six hours prescribed in other ice cream recipes aren’t enough here, because we’ve lowered the freezing point of the base significantly. To get to a scoopable consistency, plan for the full eight hours or even longer.

The final result is creamy, just-sweet-enough and barely tangy from the crème fraîche. Feel free to experiment with flavors beyond my favorite orange-clove and the ginger-chocolate-chip alternative we provide—a summery lavender is calling my name lately. When I first served it at a dinner party, my ice cream scoop hit the bottom of the quart before dessert was over, which was proof enough for me that this recipe is a keeper. Try it and change the way you make ice cream, too.

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