Types of Ice Cream

The delicious dessert of chilled milk or cream has developed into many varieties, in many cultures, over time. There is a great deal of overlap of ingredients among foods that take different names, for example ice cream and gelato. There is no French Academy of Frozen Desserts (as far as I know) whose job it is tell us what is and isn’t ice cream etc. Today, the word is used to cover desserts made with a whole range of ingredients. I bring this up to lead you to the most important point of this post, which is: Don’t get hung up on names and categories. They simply are not important to the fun of making ice cream at home. Having said that, it is interesting to review the various styles of ice cream if for no other reason than to understand a common language even if we know that it is an inexact one.


The Dairy-Egg Ice Cream Matrix

Boy that sounds impressive. Maybe I can get a grant to explore this further. Ice creams can be divided into four groups that result from the intersection of the answers to two questions. Does a recipe contain dairy products or not and does it contain eggs or not? These groups pretty much encompasses the entire universe of frozen desserts. Is knowing this profoundly useful in some way? Heck no, I just had fun thinking of it.



American, Philadelphia Style, or Standard Ice Cream

vanilla_ice_cream_150_150There are probably even more names for this style. This is ice cream at its most basic, made of milk, cream, sugar and added flavoring. It’s flavor is primarily about the simple direct taste and richness of cow’s milk. A pint of classic Philadelphia ice cream, from which the whole universe of ice creams expands, could be made up of 1/2 cup of whole milk, 1 1/2 cup of heavy cream, 6 tablespoons of table sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. For the sake of purity you can even leave out the vanilla. Mix to fully incorporate the sugar, until smooth. Freeze as quickly as you can while agitating in some way (Here is a method.). If no additional ingredients have been added to prevent large ice crystal formation, standard ice cream is best eaten right out of the ice cream maker, with only a short period of hardening in the freezer.

Philadelphia style is easier to make than egg custard based ice cream because it is heated only enough to effectively incorporate the sugar. Some recipes call for additional heating, even boiling, in order to release some water from a mix or to thicken one containing corn starch. This is done to improve the resulting texture of the ice cream. I urge you try making Jeni Bauer’s version to experience what a huge difference a truly outstanding texture can make to an ice cream.


French Style, Custard, Frozen Custard, Gelato

frozen_custardThese dairy based ice creams contain another primary ingredient, egg yolks. In these ice creams it not uncommon to see 10, 12, or even more egg yolks per quart/liter. In addition to adding a gloss to ice cream, egg yolks help keep ice crystals small and texture smooth. They also add a deep richness, complexity and egginess to the taste of ice creams made with them. That has both a benefit and a cost as the egginess can compete with the intended flavor of the ice cream. For example, strawberry ice cream can become strawberry – egg ice cream. However, when the flavors are complimentary, as in olive oil gelato, it is mind blowing. As the word custard implies ice cream containing egg yolks are almost always cooked to form a thickened custard before freezing. This is done for reasons of both health and flavor.


gelato_displayGelato is an Italian word for frozen. It often contains more milk, and less or no cream, than Philadelphia style ice cream. Gelato may contain a great number of egg yolks but this is not always the case. The only consistent factor I could find is that when made commercially it is made using a churning process that incorporates as little extra air as possible. True gelato is more dense than standard ice cream. There is a myth that gelato is lower fat or somehow healthier than ice cream. Though this is not the case, I encourage you to tell yourself this while on vacation in Italy.


Non-Dairy Ice Creams

coconut_milk_ice_creamFrozen desserts approximating ice cream, and in there own ways capable of being just enticing, can be based on a number of non-dairy liquids. Soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, the milk of other animals such as goat, vegetable and fruit juices; these cover some but probably not all possibilities. For that matter, delicious frozen treats can be based simply on ice such as granita or sorbet. Except for those that embrace ice wholeheartedly (under- explored and under-appreciated I’m afraid), many non-dairy ice cream recipes are as much about ingredients whose purpose it is to approximate the smoothness and mouth-feel of dairy ice creams as they are about flavor. Whether you are obsessed with smoothness or not there is great room for experimentation in making dairy-free ice creams at home. In addition to offering a whole alternate play-space of delicious foods, they have the potential to be not just less unhealthy than traditional ice creams but actually healthful. Read this as an example.

Frozen Yogurt

lemon_kefir_frozen_yogurtI think you can make the case that the rise of frozen yogurt began as a marketing scam whose purpose was to dupe people into thinking that it was healthier than ice cream. It is not. Depending on the recipe it may or may not be low fat but is often high in sugar; which depending on the person and consumption level, can be very unhealthy. With time people began consuming it simply to enjoy the inherent taste of yogurt, primarily that tanginess that comes from being fermented. Yogurt and other fermented liquids and foods are best thought of as one more potential flavor ingredient with their own unique attributes.

Notes on Making Ice Cream

photo by PhotoAtelier (Glen)

Notes on the making of ice cream, gelato etc…

Making Ice Cream isn’t rocket science.

Really, it’s fun. Don’t be intimidated. If you measure things out ahead of time (get your Mess in Place so to speak) and pay attention while you are cooking, you will make great ice cream, better than anything you can buy in a supermarket. Better than you can buy in most ice cream parlours.

Making Ice Cream offers the home chef a lot of bang for the buck.

Making ice cream is one of those activities where the rewards gained from doing it are far higher than what you have any right to expect from such a simple activity. Your friends, family, and kids of all ages will be amazed and delighted. Your inner foodie will bliss out. Who doesn’t love ice cream? Really what more can you ask for as a cook.

You will taste the quality of the ingredients you use.

Simple recipes consisting of just a few ingredients, gently cooked or not cooked at all, as all ice creams are, means you will taste every bit of quality (or lack there of) of the ingredients you use. So use the very best, freshest, most local, most in season ingredients you can. Choose a flavor based on what’s peaking now.

Learn to distinguish between useful best practices, mindless convention, and just plain anal retentiveness.

One of the things I love about Mark Bittman, especially evident if you watch his New York Times videos, is that he cuts through a lot of unnecessary technique that often intimidate people (like me) from attempting particular recipes. Most series of complicated steps in a recipe can be reduced, eliminated or combined if you think about them in terms of answering the following question honestly: “Given my cooking skill level, what are the chances that I will wreck this dish in a way I can’t recover from, if I don’t do things exactly as laid out?” With ice cream making there are a few rules you see all the time which I humbly propose can be ignored most of time. This is especially true if you are planning on eating the fruits of your labor right out of the machine.

The bane of ice cream making is the formation of large and/or irregular ice crystals. I will cover this in a lot more detail in other posts but for now know that a lot of playing with the proportion of ingredients, and variation in preparation technique, comes down to people trying very hard to create tiny ice crystals and therefore super smooth ice cream. This is particularly an issue after ice cream is removed from your maker and stored in your freezer. If you are planning on eating all that you have made right out of your ice cream maker or within 2 – 4 hours in your freezer, it is much less of an issue.

Here is a list of conventions I break regularly and which you may be able to also.

Filter your egg custards and cooked mixes through a sieve when you are finished cooking them.

As long as you combine ingredients well enough to begin with, this is a completely unnecessary step. If your mix or custard is so full of clods of egg or whatever, that it really needs to be sieved, you probably have a bigger problem on your hands. Not to say there won’t be recipes in which you will choose to use a sieve, but that will be an exception not the rule.

Chill a cooked Ice cream mixture in an ice bath, and/or the refrigerator until cold before freezing in your ice cream maker.

This is supposed to create a finer ice grain structure by for allowing for quicker freezing time in the maker. I take the position that if you own a real ice cream maker (see below) you can skip this and go from stove to ice cream maker. I do this all the time and have not noticed any significant worsening of texture. Note that I have yet to read anyone else who condones this, so be forewarned.

Also note this convention can NOT be broken with Freezer canister type machines. With these you HAVE to cool down the mixture to almost freezing.

Chill ice cream mixture for at least 6 hours or over night before processing.

Why? I suppose the flavors might coalesce a bit better but I really wonder if you would taste the difference. It isn’t like we are making a curry or some other complex dish with dozens of ingredients and hundreds of flavor components. Ice creams mixtures typically have 4 or 5 ingredients.

I was happy to run across support for this opinion from Harold McGee the noted food scientist and chef. From his book Keys To Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes, The Penguin Press 2010:

Don’t bother to age ice cream mixes for hours. Aging is important in commercial mixes that include gelatin and stabilizing gums, but in home-made ice cream it encourages cream to separate and churn into butter.

Freeze at least one hour before serving.

This is crazy. Ice cream, gelato, etc.. is more often than not best right out of the machine. Another excellent reason to own an ice creamer maker with a built in freezer is that with a reasonably simple recipe you can time things to make fresh ice cream while you are cooking dinner and have it ready for dessert!

Of course and alas there are exceptions to this rule. Ice creams based on Jeni Bauer’s ice cream base only come into their own after a few hours in the freezer. She recommends 4 hours. This is no small thing as her recipes have the best texture of any I have made so far. Lick the paddle and wait.


One of my main goals for the site is to encourage experimentation. We are living through a golden age of home cooking and diy foodie rule breaking. In many ways home-made ice cream is the perfect food to experiment with. The ingredients are inexpensive, the process simple and you can work in small batches of say a pint rather than a quart at a time. If you try something and it doesn’t work out and you have wasted a small amount of ingredients and an hour of your time. Embrace failure and before you know it you will be an ice cream making God renowned by friends and family.

Buy a Real Ice Cream Maker!!!!

At some point Makers of all kinds, realize that they are only as good as their tools. In any given discipline there are a handful of tools that are indispensable to, maybe indistinguishable from, producing high quality results consistently. Knowing this and using that tool or tools is what separates people who care from people that don’t. With ice cream making that tool is an ice cream maker with a built in freezer compressor. You pour your mix in and the machine freezes it while its churning. It works EVERY TIME, no hassles, no devoting 20% or more of your freezer space to a canister. Others may disagree but I have come to this opinion after years of messing with a number of canister style and rock salt and ice (brine) style makers. Life is to0 short. The only reason you should consider the any other type of machine is strictly financial. At time of writing you can get into a used compressor machine through eBay for around $200 including shipping or a very good new one for around $300.

The Anal Retentive Chef

Standard measurements for Ice Cream Making

porcelain measuring cups

This is a work in progress but will contain all the measurements and equivalents I can think of that pertain to making ice cream.

US Standards of Measurements

Ice Cream Quantities

1 scoop of ice cream is roughly 1/2 cup.

1 serving of ice cream is the same, 1/2 cup.

There are 2 cups in a pint  or 4 scoops of ice cream.

There are 4 cups/2 pints in a quart  so 8 scoops of ice cream.

There are 6 cups/3 pints or 12 scoops in 1.5 quarts of ice cream.

There are 8 cups/ 4 pints or 16 scoops in 2 quarts of ice cream.

Tablespoons to Cups

Tbs Cups
1 1/16
2 1/8
4 1/4
8 1/2


Measurement equivalents

1 1/2 t 1/2 T
3 t 1 T
2 cups 1 pint
4 cups 1 quart
4 quarts 1 gallon

Half and Half can be approximated by combining 3 cups of whole milk with 1 cup of heavy cream.

Freezer bowl style machines vary between 1 and 2 quarts capacity.

Know your machines capacity!

What is the Difference between Ice Cream and Custard?


Frozen custard is kind of a Gelato/Ice Cream hybrid. It combines the density and egg yolks of gelato with with the balance of more heavy cream than milk of ice cream. Thus maximizing the fat content and density of the two. In the US, by law frozen custard has to contain at least 10% milkfat like ice cream plus at least 1.4% egg yolk solids. Commercial frozen custard machines churn in a way so as not to add air to the mixture; this is very similar to gelato.  Lastly frozen custard is often served at a lower temperature so that it is softer than ice cream. This is also similar to the way gelato is served in Italy.

For the purpose of this website ‘Im going to define frozen custard as ice cream that has a roughly a proportion of 2 cups of cream for every one cup of milk and at least 5 eggs per quart.  Additionally it should be served soft right from the machine.

Here is a basic recipe based on one from the American Egg Board that I found on food.com


What is the Difference between Ice Cream and Custard?
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8
Frozen Custard Recipe
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cups milk
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  1. In medium saucepan, beat together eggs, milk, sugar, honey and salt.
  2. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat metal spoon and reaches at least 160 degrees.
  3. Cool quickly by setting pan in ice or cold water and stirring for few minutes.
  4. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 1 hour.
  5. When ready to freeze, pour chilled custard, whipping cream and vanilla into your ice cream maker. If your machine is so equiped, use the gelato paddle and speed setting.
  6. Transfer to freezer containers and freeze to desired firmness.

What’s the Difference Between Gelato and Ice Cream

serious eats

In Theory

Gelato is Italian ice cream. It is commonly described as being denser and lower in fat than American ice cream. As a result gelati are said to have more intense, less fatty tasting flavors. Let’s look at this a little more closely.



The amount of air churned into an ice cream mix while freezing plays a big part in how dense it ends up being. American ice cream has considerably more air than gelato. It is not uncommon to find supermarket ice creams that are double the volume of their pre-aerated mix. Next time you are in a super- market pick up a quart of premium ice cream in one hand and the least expensive brand in the other. The premium brand better be noticeably heavier and therefore more dense than the cheaper brand. Density is dictated by the style of churning paddle used and/or the speed it turns while churning. Traditionally commercial gelato makers churn more slowly than ice cream makers.



The amount of fat. Ice Cream has to have over 10% fat to be legally called ice cream in the US. Gelato traditionally uses more milk instead of or in a higher proportion to heavy cream than ice cream. Therefore it can be lower in butterfat. However many gelato recipes use large quantities of egg yolks. Often 10 or more per quart. Gelato with a lot of egg yolks glistens in a way most ice creams do not. Needless to say egg yolks are loaded with fat and cholesterol. I am sure this lower fat myth was invented by Italian Gelatiari to offer tourists completely unneeded encouragement and help them feel good about, the insane quantities of ice cream, excuse me gelati, they eat while on vacation in Italy. Not that I would personally know anything about this.



The reality is that the mix and proportions of ingredients in recipes that call themselves either ice cream or gelato are indistinguishable. Also as most home ice cream makers don’t come with multiple speed settings and special air minimizing paddles it is difficult, if not impossible, to make at home the kind of gelato you can eat while sitting on the Grand Canal in Venice, not that there isn’t plenty of fake gelato for sale there either.  Dont get hung up on this.  There are plenty of recipes that you can make and serve as gelato with a clear conscience and a straight face.


For the purposes of my own recipes on this website I’m going to define gelato as having roughly a proportion of two to one, milk to cream and at least four egg yolks per quart. Ice cream will have two cups of cream to one cup of milk or a one to one proportion between the two, and no eggs. Frozen custard will have a two to one cream to milk proportion and at least 4 egg yolks per quart. Understand thes are totally arbitrary rules of thumb that I’m going to use and probably ignore just as frequently.


A last note regarding texture. I think that the texture of gelato should be all about silky-smoothness. It should have a glossy surface and be served slightly warmer and softer than ice cream. Ice cream should be smooth but have a slight chew to its texture, encouraging you to bite into it. Serve it hard enough so that a scoop retains its shape. Like gelato, frozen yogurt should be smooth and served even softer.