Clear ice is not only beautiful, it’s free of impurities and without any air bubbles it’s also denser and melts more slowly too.
In this article we will be exploring what makes ice cloudy, and give you a quick hack to learn how to make clear ice at home. We’ll be using easy to find and inexpensive equipment!
What makes ice cloudy?
The technique behind making clear ice at home is pretty straight forward. Freeze directionally from the top down. This way, minerals, impurities and gasses that are present in water are forced out of the ice as the water freezes, leaving you with a top layer of perfectly clear ice.
Think of an ice tray in a typical freezer. The cubes they produce will have cloudy centers. This is because the ice has formed all around the mold at the same time, trapping the gasses and minerals at the center of the cube, making it cloudy.
To get clear ice at home, the trick is to use an insulated container with the lid removed to make the ice form from the top down. You may have memories of walking outside in winter and seeing the most beautiful clear ice formed on the muddiest of puddles. It’s the same principle here.
Big Freezer, Big Blocks, Bread Knife Chops
For making big blocks, a cooler with the lid removed works perfectly. This will give you a big block of clear ice that you will then have to cut down into blocks, spears or whatever shapes you prefer.
A sturdy bread knife is a great tool for cutting ice blocks down. Place the ice onto a board that means the ice will not slide around. A wooden chopping board usually works well. Saw into the ice with your bread knife where you want to split the ice. Let the knife do the work, don’t force it.
Once the knife is ¼” or 6 – 8 cm into the ice you can stop sawing and with your other hand, tap the top of the knife with a hammer, mallet or a heavy pestle (which might be closer to hand in your kitchen). This will send a shock through the ice which should split it along the line you’ve scored with your knife.
If you don’t have anything sturdy to hand to tap the knife with, you can continue cutting with the knife until you cut through the ice. Simply cut your way around the block until the ice gives way and your piece is cut free. However you do it, as always when ice and knives are involved…take care!
Further shaping to your piece of ice can be done with ice picks or with a sturdy paring knife. If you’re shaping your ice in hand, put on a pair of silicone gloves to look after your hand. Then once you’ve cut and shaped the pieces you want, store them in a zip lock bag in the freezer.
If you have a particular glass you want to use the ice in, remember it’s easier to cut the ice block down to the right size from the beginning, rather than having to shave each piece down to fit into your glass. So remember, have the glass to hand to measure your cuts before you make them.
Small But Beautiful
Let’s be honest, fitting a whole cooler into your freezer is probably not practical for most people. Especially if you live in an apartment in one of the world’s bigger cities. The freezers are often small, and you might even have food in there!
So here’s a fast simple hack to make clear ice at home, without having to throw out your ice-cream and frozen peas. Simply use a double-walled stainless steel wine chiller to form medium to large blocks. If you have less space than that, you can still get a good size block from a thermos mug, but it has to be a tall one. We haven’t managed to get short ones to work.
For a very fast and easy extraction, we’ve been wrapping a cocktail shaker in a glass cloth and pushing it into the wine cooler. Once frozen, we simply grab the corners of the glass cloth and pull out the shaker. A quick run under the cold water tap and the block of ice slides easily out of the shaker. We’ve found this by far the easiest way to get the ice block out. You have a slightly smaller block, but hassle free.
The shape of the block is also cone shaped, which makes cutting perfect squares or spears tricky, but honestly, we do like the more organic shaped ice. Each piece having unique lines and shapes makes for beautiful and interesting drinks presentations. Each to their own though.
Filling with warm filtered water works best, but you are at risk of raising the temperature of your freezer which could affect the other contents in your freezer. So proceed with caution.
Getting your timing down will make ‘harvesting’ the clear ice easier. If you get it just right, the impurities will still be in liquid water below the layer of clear ice, rather than a layer of clear ice with cloudy ice below that has to be cut away. Simply tip out the container into your sink, allowing the water to drain away as you grab the layer of clear ice. If you ‘fill and forget’, (don’t worry we do it all the time) you can cut away the layer of cloudy ice at the bottom using a bread knife and mallet / hammer / pestle before you start cutting the shapes of clear ice you require.
Always leave your ice block out for five or ten minutes before working with it. This should ensure you don’t shatter your ice with any rapid temperature changes, cutting, chipping or carving. This is particularly important when it comes to serving drinks with large pieces of clear ice. If you add them to a glass straight from the freezer and start adding ingredients immediately you will force the block to crack, somewhat ruining the clear effect of your ice. So, remove the ice you need when you start to make your drink to allow it time to ‘render’ and become shiny, clear and less likely to have cracks go through it.
Clear Ice at Home - A Visual Guide
Tools for working ice are quite personal. What feels good in the hands, suits your needs, gets you the results you desire and importantly, what feels safe of course too.
The other piece of kit, not seen here, that’s also an old favourite is a ‘trident pick’ for chipping and shaping.
- Heavy bread knife for sawing and cutting
- Small sturdy paring knife for carving and shaping
- Heavy cleaver for chipping and chopping
- Pestle to use as a mallet / hammer
Gather the corners of the cloth and pull the cocktail tin out from the wine chiller.
Wrapping the tin in a glass cloth has two key roles:
- It ensures the tin is properly sealed into the wine cooler and keeps the liquid well insulated while it freezes.
- It makes it very easy to remove the tin and ice once frozen.
Removing the ice core, with its two clearly defined layers, from the tin is very simple. Simply holding the tin in your hands as you turn it out is usually enough warmth to release the ice with a little tap.
Running the tin under the cold tap will ensure a quick release if you are having any problems.
Use a sturdy bread knife or a clean saw to cut away the layer of cloudy ice.
You can either cut all the way through with the knife, or use a mallet or heavy pestle to tap the knife and fracture the ice down the line of your cut.
Cut and split the block of clear ice down into the size and shape you pieces want.
Have the glass to hand that you want the ice to fit into to use as a guide.
Or you can simply store the block whole in the freezer then cut it down to size when you know what you want to use.
Carve and shape the pieces into attractive shapes and sizes to fit the glasses you want to use.
A small sturdy paring knife works well for shaping. If you’re confident, this can be done in your hand.
If you’re doing a lot of ice work, you might want to protect your hand from direct contact with the ice. Double up a silicone glove to protect the hand holding the ice.
Store cut ice in a zip lock bag in the freezer until you’re ready to use.
You can also shape with the ice on a board that won’t let the ice slip. A wooden board works well for this. You can also get a cut resistant glove if you’re in any doubt about being able to do this safely.
The paring knife can also be used to chop smaller pieces of ice to size to perfectly suit and fill your glass as needed. The pairing knife can also be used to chop smaller pieces of ice to size to perfectly suit and fill your glass as needed.
Elevate your cocktails
The results are undeniable. Clear ice will elevate even the most simple of cocktails, like this beautiful and delicious Whiskey Highball.
Refill and repeat!
Lay a glass cloth over the top of the wine chiller and push it in. We also use a ziplock bag, to avoid the cloth getting wet as this would freeze solid and make extraction a lot more difficult. You can not bother with this step, just make sure not to spill or overfill!
Press the shaker all the way into the wine chiller.
Now fill the shaker tin with filtered water to within ½” of the top of the rim and place in the freezer. How long you will need to leave your clear ice making container, depends on the size. We would definitely recommend you leave it in the freezer at least over night.
Show off your work
Share your successes making clear ice with us! We love seeing your drinks and experiments. If you have other fun ways of making ice, we want to know!