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.

Join The Conversation

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.

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 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!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • DaviWils
  • Ursula Straub
    Ursula Straub
  • sherbalong
  • Lé Shef
    Lé Shef
  • rentaprogrammer
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


DaviWils August 8, 2022
There is more than just 2 types of ice cream. You only mentioned Philadelphia and french styles.
The most famous and arguably the best of all is Italian gelato!
Traditionally gelato uses eggs and milk and less or no cream. However in the south of Italy they use cornflour instead of eggs. The north of Italy uses more cream - french style.
Then you have other milk based ices - parfait, sherbet, kulfi and salab.
I’m assuming you didn’t mean to include water based ices with no milk - eg. Sorbet, granita, spoons?
Hope that helps.
Ursula S. July 9, 2022
Hello, dearest Emma –
Thank you for this exciting, most interesting topic!!!!
I have a question, please: as I don't care so much for plain cornstarch (it makes some things a little bit gritty) – how much do I need of the following for sub, please:
For 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch –
1) how many teaspoons of tapioca flour
2) how many teaspoons of potato starch
3) how many teaspoons of rice flour
do I need?

Thank you so very much!
Dear greetings – Ursula ♥️
Rachel B. June 4, 2024
I just read to use twice the amount of tapioca starch in this article:
sherbalong March 18, 2022
This is a lovely conversation.. How would you adapt coconut cream and/or milk? I'm fine with egg yolks and/or corn start; just not milk. Thank you !!
Lé S. October 24, 2021
Cornstarch is super unhealthy and causes many diseases, so don’t listen to this article
rentaprogrammer August 6, 2021
We have a small chocolate business in Honduras. We have been experimenting with yuca as a starch. Yuca is a root, also known as cassava, and the source of tapioca. I simply boiled the yuca in water to make it soft, blend it with milk, then heat it until the starches thicken milk.

We use yuca, and other local ingredients, because it is grown here, and very inexpensive. It's also a familiar flavor. We just turned out a batch of soft ice cream that did not require an ice cream freezer. We used 10 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, and milk, no cream. The chocolate provided the fat content.
apaajaboleh August 2, 2021
Hi, i made ice cream with cornstarch a couple of times. But sometimes the taste turns out a little starchy sometimes. Why is it?
SNNYC July 15, 2023
If it’s starchy, you didn’t cook it long enough.
Alee87 June 3, 2021
Hello, I want to try this recipe but in a commercial batch freezer. I get the base (milk, cream, sugars) already made from a dairy. I was wondering if anyone has tried it this way. I was going to remove some of the base from the bladder to make the cornstarch slurry the incorporate that to the cream cheese then add that all back into the rest of the base (that will still be cold) then put in the batch freezer to freeze. Has anyone made this recipe in a commercial batch freezer or with a premade base where you just add the cornstarch and cream cheese?
Rusty F. November 10, 2020
This is an older post so I'm late to comment. I use egg yolks and corn starch and we like that best although I'm not sure why. I put a cup of milk and the sugar and corn starch in a pot and heat this until the sugar melts. Then I temper the yolks, stirring the hot mixture into them, and put the mixture back in the pot. I usually hold the small pot up over the burner to have less direct contact with the heat and then stir it until it gently bubbles and gets thick - about a minute or two after it starts bubbling. Then I mix 2 or 2 and 1/2 cups of cold heavy cream and vanilla in a jar with the hot mixture, put the lid on and put it in the refrigerator or freezer depending on how quickly I want it to cool. Of course if it's going to go in the freezer I shake it now and then so it doesn't freeze. When it's good and cold it goes into the ice cream maker. I just happened to try using both yolks and corn starch one time and it was everyone's favorite. It's extremely smooth and scoopable. And Emma, if you actually see this, do you ever just throw things like ice cream together without measuring because you just have a feel for it and want to be quick? I always measure with baked cakes and things that require precise chemistry but much of the time I throw things together getting the results I expect. I always wonder if professional cooks who offer their recipes online always measure at home.
Kimberly H. December 9, 2019
Hi Emma! Any suggestions on how to make this Sicilian style gelato more scoopable? I used 3 tbsp of cornstarch and mine, although delicious, came out of my freezer hard as a rock!

Emma L. December 9, 2019
Hey Kimberly! I'm a bit stumped because one of the characteristics of this ice cream style is that it's very scoopable—so I'm not 100% sure what might have happened. The recipe calls for a bit more cornstarch (3 T + 2 t), but that shouldn't have caused such a drastic change. Did you cook the mixture until thick, then chill it completely before churning? And how long was it in the freezer before you scooped it? In any case, leaving it out for 10ish minutes before serving should help. And you can always add 1 to 2 T vodka (or bourbon or rum) to most ice cream recipes (before churning) to increase scoopability. Here's our ice cream guide in case it's helpful!
Eileen August 29, 2019
Tapioca starch is much more "dependable" than cornstarch. Tapioca starch keeps the texture consistent. Cornstarch can thin out after heating and then cooling and get really strange when frozen. I use about one half the amount of Tapioca as that of cornstarch. Excellent results. Oh, and half the amount of egg yolks, don't need 'em!
Littlefox June 3, 2020
Hey Eileen!! I used your advice and tried the Tapioca starch and it made a great product, I was making a French-style ice cream with 2 cups cream, 1 cup milk and 6 eggs, so I halved the eggs and used 2 tablespoons of tapioca.It tasted great and the texture was good but I was wondering if it may evenbe too much you have a good rule of thumb for how much to use? Thank you!
Eileen June 4, 2020
Go ahead and experiment! I just took a guess and got good results. Happy Ice Cream season.
Christin July 28, 2019
Can I use rice flour to substitute cornstarch?
Emma L. July 29, 2019
Hi! I haven't tried that substitution with this recipe, but here are two links that might be helpful if you want to try: 1) An article we have on substituting cornstarch, 2) A rice flour–thickened pastry cream, In this case, I'd try about 6 tablespoons rice flour and go from there. If you give it a go, let me know how it turns out!
Joanne June 17, 2019
What about a product like Sevagel ice cream/sorbet stabilizers? Can anyone tell me how much of this to add to a quart of ice cream base? Do they both need to be cooked? To what temp? Thanks!
Emily E. July 22, 2018
Does adding corn starch keep the end resulting ice cream from melting as rapidly once it is served ?

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.

3 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.
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.
Ritchie H. April 18, 2021
I small amount of stabiliser would work. Try 4g of carob grain flour. Otherwise tapioca starch is very interesting.
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.
Allison J. October 2, 2020
What does the pectin do and what type do you use? Do you just whisk it in? Thanks
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.
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.
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."
Rachel B. June 4, 2024
It is according to this article: