Ice Cream/Frozen Desserts

For the Silkiest Ice Cream, Add One Ingredient

February  7, 2018

Whether it’s vanilla or chocolate, pistachio or preserved lemon, most ice cream recipes fall into one of two categories: Philadelphia-style, which calls for dairy (usually cream and milk) and sugar, but no eggs. And custard- or French-style, which includes dairy, sugar, and eggs. Both have their pros and cons:

Philadelphia-style is easy as can be: mix, churn, ta-da! But because there are no fatty, protein-rich egg yolks, which emulsify and enrichen ice cream, it tends to be icier. French-style, on the other hand, is rich and creamy. But because you have to cook a custard, it’s also more time-consuming and prone to mistakes—scorch the yolks and you end up with scrambled-egg ice cream. (Unless that’s your favorite flavor, which is cool, too!)

I oscillate back and forth between the two. For fresh, fruity ice creams—say, blackberry in July—I use Philadelphia, partly so the peak produce can shine like a diamond, partly so, ahem, I don’t have to turn on my stove. For richer flavors—maybe malted vanilla with chocolate-covered pretzels—I opt for custard. But I never felt committed to either.

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Then I stumbled upon what I shall henceforth deem: Sicilian-style. I was thumbing through The Perfect Scoop, which I’ve flipped through, oh, I don’t know, a trillion and one times before, when one paragraph caught my eye:

Although some gelatos do have egg yolks, they are often thickened with a starch instead. The result is a chewy gelato that tastes less rich than a custard-based one made with eggs. Faith Willinger, who writes about Italian cuisine in Florence, told me that thickening gelato with a starch is a Sicilian trait, and it is done because egg yolks are less digestible than starch, important during their hot summers.

Cornstarch in ice cream?! Does anyone else know about this? Well, okay, yes...

The brand Jeni’s Spendid Ice Creams uses cornstarch (and cream cheese) in lieu of eggs. We published her home-adapted ice cream base in 2012, excerpted from her cookbook.

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Top Comment:
“cups heavy cream 3 cups whole lactose free milk 1-1/2 cup sugar 1 TBS vanilla extract Pinch of salt 4 large egg yolks I dont cook the milk and sugar too hot, just enough to dissolve the sugar. ”
— Emily E.
Comment

A few years after that, Dana Cree wrote Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream and answered just about every question anyone has ever wondered about ice cream. Including mine: Why cornstarch? She explains the ingredient as—don’t freak out—a stabilizer:

A stabilizer is simply an ingredient that functions to keep...ice cream stable. It does this by helping lock water into place, preventing it from shifting around and forming big ice crystals, which in turn makes ice cream smoother and more satisfying. And these helpful friends are often already in your ice cream—like milk proteins—or in your cupboards, like cornstarch.

Just the silkiest. Photo by Bobbi Lin

In other words, cornstarch does the legwork of yolks, without all the egg-separating, custard-making fuss. Huzzah! The only other question is: How much do you add?

  • Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream: 4 cups cream and milk, 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch; 1 cup liquid to 1 teaspoon starch ratio
  • Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams: 3 ¼ cups cream and milk, 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cornstarch; ¾ cup + 1 tablespoon liquid to 1 teaspoon starch ratio
  • The Perfect Scoop: 3 cups cream and milk, 3 tablespoons cornstarch; 1 cup liquid to 1 tablespoon starch ratio

Whoa, Nelly, to the last one, right? That’s three times what Cree calls for. But I’m into it. For my own starch-based, Sicilian-style ice cream, I settled on a similar ratio. The result is thick and creamy, smooth and so, so silky. And you don’t have to crack any eggs to get there.

Are you loyal to Philadelphia-style or French-style? Have you ever made cornstarch-thickened ice cream? Discuss in the comment section below!

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12 Comments

Emily E. July 22, 2018
Does adding corn starch keep the end resulting ice cream from melting as rapidly once it is served ? <br /><br />I just created a “french style” ice cream and my husband loves it and so do I. However, it melts really fast. Once served. Even after being frozen in the freezer all night. <br /><br />3 cups heavy cream<br />3 cups whole lactose free milk<br />1-1/2 cup sugar<br />1 TBS vanilla extract<br />Pinch of salt <br />4 large egg yolks<br /><br />I dont cook the milk and sugar too hot, just enough to dissolve the sugar. <br />
 
Author Comment
Emma L. July 26, 2018
Hi Emily, great Q! I haven't compared how quickly cornstarch-based ice cream melts compared to its counterparts, but that'd be cool to look into. In the meantime, try freezing your ice cream dishes for at least 30 minutes before scooping and serving. I'm always surprised at what a difference this makes.
 
lumpynose June 2, 2018
Another stabilizer that people turn their noses up at but which really helps ice cream is xanthan gum. It doesn't like to dissolve so mix it with the dry ingredients first. I think the amount is about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon per 2 quarts.
 
Edward L. February 11, 2018
3 cups milk, one cup cream, one cup sugar, one tablespoon cornstarch, one tablespoon of pectin. Heat first 4 for 15 mins to thicken, add pectin at end, chill and put in ice cream maker for 30 mins.
 
Leah February 11, 2018
I use Jeni's recipe but I just do the cornstarch and leave out the cream cheese and I can't tell a difference. I usually use her recipe as a base and then mix up whatever flavor I want. One of my families favorite is a cookies and cream version where I put in oreos while the base is still warm to melt in and then towards the end of mixing the ice cream I add tons more crushed up oreos. So good!
 
Madina K. February 7, 2018
I use Jenni's recipe as a starting point for my vanilla ice cream, but substitute 1 tablespoon of tapioca starch for cornstarch and use creme fraiche instead of cream cheese.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. February 8, 2018
Intrigued by the crème fraîche! I love incorporating that into whipped cream, a la Nancy Silverton.
 
Sarah H. February 7, 2018
Love these technique based articles! In your research, did you come across any other starches? I have a friend who is sensitive to all corn products, so was curious is something like tapioca starch could be a potential substitute.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. February 8, 2018
Hi Sarah—thanks! Someone actually had a similar Q on the recipe page! Tapioca starch works, too. I can't speak to the specific quantity and method, as I personally haven't used that ingredient in ice cream before. From what I've read (in "Hello, My Name is Ice Cream" by Dana Cree) you would use half as much.
 
Tassos V. February 8, 2018
I've always used tapioca starch with Jeni's recipes, one for one substitution, and it works well
 
Gary Q. June 1, 2018
Tapioca Starch is the way to go! I have one of Jeni's books and she says they use tapioca starch but suggested corn starch because its easier to get. Even Alton Brown says Tapioca Starch has a better "mouth feel" but he was saying that in reference to blueberry pie I believe.
 
Gary Q. June 1, 2018
From Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home, "CORNSTARCH & TAPIOCA STARCH These natural thickeners absorb and hold water, so that it does not crystallize in the frozen ice cream. We use tapioca starch in our ice creams because it works better with the way we cook our cream, but I call for cornstarch in these recipes because cornstarch is more readily available. You can use whichever you like."