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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.
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...
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.
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.
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Are you loyal to Philadelphia-style or French-style? Have you ever made cornstarch-thickened ice cream? Discuss in the comment section below!