What is Ice Cream? Types, Serving, Storing

  • Post last modified:28 June 2023
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What is Ice Cream?

Ice cream is a frozen dessert made from dairy products, such as milk and cream, combined with flavorings and sweeteners, such as sugar. This mixture is stirred slowly while cooling to prevent large ice crystals from forming, which results in a smoothly textured ice cream. These ingredients, along with air incorporated during the stirring process (technically called overrun), make up ice cream.

Although the term “ice cream” is sometimes used to mean frozen desserts and snacks in general, frozen custard, frozen yogurt, sorbet, gelato, and other similar products are sometimes informally called ice cream.

Ice cream comes in a wide variety of flavors, often with additives such as chocolate flakes or chips, ribbons of sauce such as caramel or chocolate, nuts, fruit, and small candies/sweets. Some of the most popular ice cream flavors are vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and Neapolitan (a combination of the three).

Many people also enjoy ice cream sundaes, which often have ice cream, hot fudge, nuts, whipped cream, maraschino cherries, or a variety of other toppings. Other toppings include cookie crumbs, butterscotch, sprinkles, banana sauce, marshmallows, or different varieties of candy.

Ice cream is generally served as a chilled product. It may also be found in dishes where the coldness of the ice cream is used as a temperature contrast, for example, as a topping on warm desserts, or even in fried ice cream. Some commercial institutions such as creameries specialize in serving ice cream and products that are related.

Ice Cream Production

Today’s ice creams are made by slowly churning a mixture of milk or cream, eggs, sugar, and flavorings (such as fruit, chocolate, or nuts) at freezing temperatures until the mixture transforms into a smoothly textured mass of tiny ice crystals. There are two basic varieties of ice cream:

  • French-style or custard-based: These types of ice cream are very rich and smooth. They are made by incorporating egg yolks and sugar into cream and/or milk before churning.

  • Philadelphia-style: This ice cream contains no eggs and is made simply by mixing milk or cream with sugar. This process yields a less rich ice cream that is firmer and chewier than French-style ice cream.

Types of Ice Cream

The following are the standard ice cream commonly available.

  • Premium: Ice cream generally has between 11% and 15% butterfat and 60% to 90% overrun, which is the air that is pumped into the ice cream. This creates a denser, heavier, creamier, richer, and more caloric product than regular ice cream, and is reflected in the price.

    Super premium ice cream has even more butterfat— greater than 14%, with some having up to 18% and more—and less overrun, from as low as 20% up to 80%. Premium and super premium ice creams come in more complex flavors in addition to the basic ones. The super premium ice cream producers category includes smaller companies that make interesting gourmet” flavors.

    In addition to lower overrun and greater butterfat, the third way in which super premium ice cream can be made richer is by using an egg custard base, which is known as French or French-style ice cream.

  • Regular: Ice cream is less dense: it contains 10% to 11% butterfat and more air, with 90% to 100% overrun. It is usually sold in the more standard flavors since the addition of ingredients of fancy flavors adds to the cost escalation. Some people prefer the texture and lesser degree of richness and prefer it in milkshakes where the subtlety of the richer ice cream can be lost (or is overkill).

  • Economy: Ice cream contains exactly 10% butterfat – the minimum USDA standard, and 95% to 100% overrun. It is made in basic flavors.

  • Light: Ice cream means that there is either 50% less fat or 33% fewer calories than the company’s standard ice cream. Read the labels carefully: the “light” ice creams of a super premium brand often have more calories than the “regular” ice cream of other brands.

  • Low fat: Ice cream has 25% less fat than the company’s regular ice cream. Similar to the light ice cream analogy above, it can contain more calories than a regular ice cream of another brand.

Assortment of Ice Cream

The following is an assortment of ice creams commercially available all over the world:

  • Ice Cream Cake can take two forms. It is a three-layer ice cream in the shape of a cake, often with cookie crumbs or other small representations of “cake”; or layers of ice cream and cake. In the latter, it is up to the cake maker to decide whether the middle layer is the ice cream or the cake.

  • Ice Milk is a low butterfat variation of ice cream, which due to advances in food technology over the last 20 years, has all but disappeared as a term, replaced by reduced-fat ice cream.

  • Italian Ice is a smooth water ice, similar to a sorbet but generally a sweeter, snack product rather than a more refined dessert product. It is so-called because it is served in pizzerias and Italian ice shops, as well as by street vendors. Popular flavors include cherry, coconut, lemon, and “rainbow ice.”

  • Kulfi is a dense Indian ice cream made with water buffalo milk and flavorings like cardamom, chikoo, coconut, malai (almond), mango, pistachio, and saffron. Kulfi is also never made with eggs, like French ice cream. It is prepared by simply boiling milk until it is reduced to half the original volume; then sugar and a teaspoon of corn syrup are added and the mixture is boiled for 10 more minutes. Water is mixed in until it thickens into a paste and is boiled for a while longer. Finally, flavorings, dried fruits, or cardamom are added. The mixture is cooled, put into molds, and frozen.

  • Parfait, the French word for “perfect,” is originally the French sundae, generally served with fruit purée. In America, it became a particular type of sundae, with syrup and ice cream layered in a tall glass, topped with whipped cream.

  • Novelties are single-serving frozen treats such as ice cream bars, popsicles, and sandwiches.

  • Semifreddo means “half cold” in Italian, which refers to a class of semi-frozen desserts – semi-frozen custards, ice cream cakes, and tarts.

  • Sherbet is a fruit-based product like sorbet, with milk added to provide creaminess. By law, sherbet can contain no more than 2% milkfat and ranges from 1% to 2%. The milk makes it a slightly heavier product than sorbet.

  • Sorbet (the French word—in Italian, it’s sorbet) is a frozen dessert generally made from fruit purée or fruit juice; it can incorporate other flavorings including herbs and liqueurs. Unlike sherbet, sorbet contains no milk; some sorbet recipes also use egg whites.

  • Snow Cone, generally served in a paper cone or cup and is made of compacted shaved ice flavored with a choice of bright-colored sugary syrups, usually fruit-flavored (apple, banana, cantaloupe, cherry, colada, grape, kiwi, lemon, lime, mango, orange, peach, pineapple, raspberry, strawberry) but also spice (cinnamon) and pop flavors like bubblegum and cola.

    Snow cones served in a cup are eaten with a spoon; those in a paper cone are eaten like an ice cream cone. Interestingly, snow cones are the descendants of the original “ice cream,” which was snow flavored with fruit juice, created 4,000 years ago by the Chinese and learned through trade routes by the Persians 2,500 years ago.

  • Spumoni is a Neapolitan specialty where layers of three different colored and flavored ice creams: chocolate, pistachio, and cherry are a popular combination. Or, more basic flavors can be used, with nuts and candied fruit added to the layers.

  • Sundae, a name invented in America consists of one or more scoops of ice cream topped with sauce or syrup (generally butterscotch, caramel, chocolate, or strawberry). Chopped nuts and whipped cream are generally added, and a maraschino cherry is placed on top. There are endless creative riffs on the sundae, incorporating fruit, cookies, candy, cake, marshmallow creme, peanut butter sauce, sprinkles/jimmies, and ingredients too numerous to list.

  • Tartufo, the Italian word for truffle, is a ball of vanilla ice cream, often with a cherry and nuts in the center, enrobed in chocolate. The ice cream version appeared around the Victorian era when the molding of ice cream into flowers, fruits, and other shapes became popular.

  • Gelato is Italian ice cream made from milk and sugar, combined with other flavorings. The gelato ingredients (after optional pasteurization) are frozen while stirring to break up ice crystals as they form. Like high-end ice cream, gelato generally has less than 35% air, resulting in a dense and extremely flavourful product. Gelato is typically made with fresh fruit or other ingredients such as chocolate (pure chocolate, flakes, chips, etc.), nuts, small confections or cookies, or biscuits.

  • Ais kacang or ice kacang is a dessert served in Malaysia and Singapore. It is also popularly known as air batu campur in Malay or ABC for short. It is sweet-tasting and is primarily crushed or shaved ice served with sweet-flavored syrup and jelly. The word Kacang is a Malay word for bean, and the word “ais” is a transliteration of the English term “ice”. Formerly, it was made of only shaved ice and cooked red beans. Several varieties have also been introduced which contain aloe vera in some form or another, such as in jelly form. Evaporated (condensed) milk is drizzled over a mountain of ice.

  • An ice pop is a frozen water dessert on a stick that is colored and flavored. It is made by freezing colored, flavored liquid (such as fruit juice) around a stick. Once solid, the stick is then used as a handle to hold the ice pop.

  • Frozen Custard or Soft-Serve Ice Cream is ice cream served at a warmer temperature from a machine that extrudes the ice cream into soft, swirled peaks. Frozen yogurt is also available in soft-serve form. With both ice cream and frozen custard, the ingredients are mixed at 21°F; then the ice cream goes into a hardening room where it becomes rock-solid at -40°F. Soft ice cream leaves off this last step.

    Frozen custard is perceived as tastier because it is warmer and doesn’t numb the taste buds. What we know today as “soft serve” or “frozen custard” was originally regular “French” ice cream or “glace.” Over time, the hard ice cream became known as “French” ice cream, and “frozen custard” became the term used for the soft-serve ice creams, which once did use a custard ice cream base.

  • Frozen Yogurt is made of low-fat or no-fat yogurt, sweetener, gelatin, corn syrup, coloring, and flavoring, churned in an ice cream machine. It can be found soft-serve or hard-packed. It both freezes and melts much more slowly than ice cream since yogurt has a much higher freezing and melting point than milk.

  • Glace (pronounced GLAHS) is French-style ice cream, also called frozen custard, made from rich milk-and-cream-based custard that includes eggs. Not to be confused with soft-serve ice cream called frozen custard, which may or may not have an egg-custard base.

  • Granita (pronounced grah-nee-TAH, or granité, graphene-TAY, in French) is a semi-frozen dessert that is made with the same ingredients as sorbet—sugar, water, and a flavoring, in this case, a liquid such as fruit juice, coffee or wine. Unlike sorbet, granita is not churned in a freezing machine, but is poured into a large pan, placed in the freezer, and the frozen crystals are scraped from the top of the pan every 30 minutes or so. It thus yields large, frozen flakes, a crystalline appearance, and a crunchy texture. Granita also has less sugar than sorbet or sherbet

Serving Ice Cream

  • The ideal serving temperature for ice cream and other frozen desserts is 6–10°F, yet most home freezers are set to 0°F. When you serve frozen desserts straight from the freezer, they’re too cold to allow your taste buds to experience their full spectrum of flavors.

  • “Temper” ice cream before you scoop – leave it at room temperature for 8-10 minutes before serving. Return ice cream to the freezer immediately after it has been served to minimize the formation of ice crystals.

  • Serve ice cream in chilled bowls, preferably glass. Not only is the frosted bowl refreshing to look at, but the ice cream will retain its shape longer.

  • Scooping ice cream: Have a large Pyrex measuring cup or other heat-proof container filled with just boiling water standing by. Dip the metal scoop into the hot water, let it heat up for a moment, and then DRY the scoop on a towel. Quickly drag the hot scoop across the ice cream creating tight rolls of the divine stuff. Do not smash the ice cream with the scoop. Repeat the process for each serving.

  • To store opened ice cream, first place a piece of plastic wrap on the surface and smooth it down lightly with your fingers. Then close the lid securely and return to the depths of your freezer.

Ice Cream Scoops

Ice cream scoops come in three basic styles.

  • Solid scoops: These use a thin leading edge to help you push through firm ice cream. Many have handles filled with an anti-freezing fluid that keeps the scoop warmer than the ice cream.

  • Spring-loaded scoops (dishes): These have a strip of metal or plastic that sweeps across the inner surface of the scoop, helping to ease the ice cream out of the scoop. Some models have a button on the back that pushes the ice cream straight out of the scoop.

  • Spades: These are ideal if worked with ice cream on a flat surface and folded ingredients into it. A spade is useless if one needs to scoop ice cream out of small containers.

Storing Ice Cream

  • Every time you remove ice cream from the freezer, some of its small ice crystals melt. When you return the container to the freezer, that melted liquid refreezes and clings to existing crystals, making the ice cream grainier and grainier each time you remove it. Though this problem is unavoidable, you can minimize it by dividing your freshly churned ice cream into several small containers so that each container spends as little time outside the freezer as possible.

  • Foods that contain fat—including ice cream, gelato, sherbet, and frozen yogurt—are prone to picking up odors from nearby foods in the freezer if they’re not sealed and stored properly. Protect your ice cream from unwanted odors by draping a layer of plastic wrap or wax paper over the top of your storage container before covering it with the lid.
Article Reference
  • David Lebovitz (2007), The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accessories, Ten Speed Press.

  • Jens Hoffmann, Midori Matsui, Philippe Vergne (2007), Ice Cream: Contemporary Art in Culture , Phaidon Press Ltd.

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