Frozen custard is the most delicious dessert you’ve never made at home—and I am here to change that, stat. I was introduced to this nectar of the gods at Shake Shack almost two decades ago and I immediately fell in love with its dense, creamy, soft-serve texture. Kind of like ice cream, kind of like gelato, but not. Cut to several years later, when I was visiting family in Milwaukee and went to Kopp’s, a fast food chain specializing in frozen custard in a variety of ever-changing flavors. Yes, I did order a large cup and yes, I went back the next day.
But here’s the thing: Despite being a frozen custard lover for years, I’d never made it from scratch until now. And to say I’m wowed by the results is an understatement. Not only is frozen custard easy to make, but its melt in-your-mouth creaminess gives this simple sweet a decadent, even fancy vibe that is as surprising as it is satisfying.
You may be wondering how frozen custard differs from ice cream: First, although folks do make ice cream calling for egg yolks, myself included, ice cream generally gets its fat and richness from dairy (Philadelphia-style is defined by its lack of eggs), while frozen custard is all about the yolks. Moreover, ice cream is airier and fluffier than frozen custard, due to the different churning machines. Frozen custard is made in a continuous freezer that churns—you guessed it—continuously, at a warmer temp, without incorporating a ton of air. In comparison, an ice cream machine purposefully aerates, yielding a lighter texture. Then the ice cream heads to the freezer to firm up even more before serving. (As for gelato, it differs from frozen custard in that it typically skips yolks and has less milk fat. But it’s similar in that it’s more dense than ice cream.)
To make the homemade frozen custard of my dreams, I hacked my go-to ice cream recipe: I added a few more yolks (my custard calls for a whopping eight, so yes, you likely have an angel food cake in your future). I also dialed back the granulated sugar and added a few tablespoons of light corn syrup. I learned the corn syrup trick from Serious Eats: Straight-up sugar can interfere with the all-important dairy flavor of custard, but corn syrup does not; corn syrup also imparts a subtle, fudgy chew. Finally, in order to achieve that continuous freezer texture with an everyday ice cream maker, my frozen custard is best eaten directly after churning, when it is soft, a little melty, and the flavor of the dairy and vanilla are primed to really pop.
To flavor your custard, try substituting a different extract instead of the vanilla, to taste. Or add 1/2 cup of chopped chocolate during the last 5 minutes of churning. For chocolate custard, add about 1/3 cup of cocoa powder (or to taste) to the milk mixture before warming it. —Jessie Sheehan
- Prep time 24 hours
- Cook time 5 minutes
- makes about 1 1/2 pints
(480 grams) whole milk
(240 grams) heavy cream
(140 grams) granulated sugar, divided
large egg yolks
light corn syrup
Sparkling sugar or chocolate sprinkles, for decorating (optional)
- In a medium pot over medium to medium-high heat, warm the milk, cream, and 1/3 cup of the sugar until steamy and tiny bubbles form around the perimeter.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the yolks, remaining sugar, corn syrup, and salt.
- Once the milk mixture bubbles, reduce the heat to medium and slowly add spoonfuls of it to the yolks, whisking after each, until warmed. Slowly add the warm yolks to the mixture on the stovetop and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard coats the back of the spoon and has thickened enough that, when you run your finger through it, a trail is left behind.
- Strain the custard into a clean bowl. Let cool to room temp, then refrigerate until very cold, up to 24 hours. (To bring the custard to room temp more quickly, you can place the bowl in an ice bath before transferring to the fridge.)
- Once cold, add the vanilla and churn in your ice cream machine, following the manufacturer's instructions. Serve immediately—sprinkled with sparkling sugar or chocolate sprinkles, if you’d like—for an authentically soft frozen custard experience. (Or freeze for a less genuine but equally as delicious version.)