A good ice cream base and good quality ingredients are the secret to perfect ice cream. The proportions of each ingredient in the base is what will mostly define the frozen dessert you are making. More specifically, the proportions of total solids, sugar, non-fat milk solids and fat are what determine the characteristics of the final product. But there is no such thing as one perfect ice cream base recipe. You may like thick decadent and chewy ice cream but other people may like a little lighter. Also some flavors work better with certain ice cream bases. And if you are making ice cream at home, you probably need a higher egg content and ice cream stabilizers to compensate for the lack of cooling power of your ice cream equipment and minimize the formation of large ice crystals.
Ice cream is perfect for experimenting. Adjust the base recipe, try new flavors, add new toppings or test some adventurous flavor or savory ice cream. In this lesson we are going to explain you how the different ingredients in the ice cream base affect the final result so you have the tools to troubleshoot, adjust and experiment with recipes as needed. We are also going to provide you with some foolproof ice cream base recipes to get you started.
How Ice Cream Base Ingredients Affect the Final Result
As you may already know, milk is mostly water. Too much milk and your ice cream will be icy, grainy and hard. For lighter ice cream, increase the milk proportion and reduce the cream.
Cream / Fat
Too much cream and the high content of fat may harden your ice cream completely in the freezer. More fat will result in richer ice cream but too much could result in grainy ice cream because of the crystallization of the fat particles. The fat content in foods also affect the flavor release and in ice cream it will have the same effect. Fat holds on to flavor so high fat ice cream will have a slow flavor release and low fat ice cream will have an immediate release with no lingering flavor. Gelato has a fat content of 3-8% and ice cream has 10-20% fat.
Non Fat Milk Solids
Milk and cream contain solids that are not fat. These solids are mostly proteins that help stabilize the foam by holding the air bubbles in place and stabilize the fat droplets. Too many solids and the resulting ice cream may have a higher degree of overrun making it too airy. When you need to incorporate more non fat milk solids in a recipe but you don't want to add more water or fat, you can use skimmed milk powder. This is a great trick to add milk solids without adding anything else that may not be needed. Gelato has 8-11% and ice cream has 7-12% of non-fat milk solids.
The freezing point of water will be lowered when adding sugar. Too much sugar and your ice cream will be too soft and may not even harden at all if your ice cream maker is not powerful enough. Too much sugar will also result in chewy ice cream and too little may result in crunchy ice cream because of the large ice crystals that are formed. You can use corn syrup instead of granulated sugar (sucrose) in higher quantities to obtain a chewy ice cream that is not too sweet. Corn syrup is less sweet than granulated sugar syrup so you can use a higher quantity to make your ice cream chewy without adding too much sweetness. Gelato has 14-24% sugar and ice cream has 13-17%.
Different sugars have different effects on the freezing point of the mix and sweetness intensity. So chefs sometimes use different sugar types to achieve the desired results. That's why you sometimes see ice cream recipes using glucose or maltodextrin. The number of molecules dissolved in water is what determines the factor by which the freezing point is lowered.
Sucrose, table sugar, is a disaccharide with molecules formed by a molecule of glucose linked to a molecule of fructose.
Glucose and fructose are monosaccharides with a molecular weight that is about half that of sucrose. This means that 100g of glucose or fructose will have double the power in lowering the freezing point of water than the same amount of sucrose. Glucose and fructose also have different sweetness intensity. Glucose has about 70%-80% the sweetness of sucrose while fructose 120%-140% (for cold applications).
Maltodextrins are a long chain of glucose molecules and have similar properties to sucrose but with less sweetness so they are also commonly used in ice cream making. Because of their much higher molecular weights, maltodextrins are not as effective in reducing the freezing point as sucrose is, only 10% to 30% the factor of sucrose.
Corn Syrup is a mixture of glucose and maltose with a sweetness that is 30%-50% that of sucrose (Karo Kight Corn Syrup has an estimated sweetness of 33% that of sucrose).
Liquid honey is about 80% glucose and fructose and its sweetness is about the same as sucrose.
Many ice cream recipes have a custard base that contains eggs. Custard ice creams will be denser, creamier and will have some egg flavor. The proteins in the egg help control ice crystal growth so it is usually easier to obtain creamier ice creams with custard bases, especially if not using a professional ice cream maker. For subtle flavors, a custard base may not be desired to avoid masking the original flavor but check our tips lesson to reduce the egg flavor. Eggs have fat so if you use too many eggs you'll encounter the same issues than when adding too much cream. About half of the weight of egg yolks is fat.
Ice cream stabilizers will improve the texture by reducing the formation of ice crystals, slowing down the melting and stabilizing the foam to retain the air bubbles. Ice cream stabilizers usually contain a blend of hydrocolloids that are emulsifiers and thickeners. The sugars and thickeners increase the viscosity of the ice cream base. Higher viscosity lengthens the melting time of the final product and helps stabilizing the foam, or in other words, helps keep the air bubbles in the mixture. During aging, a process we explained in the Making Ice Cream Science lesson, the emulsifiers in ice cream stabilizers displace the milk protein from the fat globules preparing them for the whipping process to be able to stabilize the foam. When making ice cream at home, it is recommended to use ice cream stabilizers to compensate for the lack of cooling power of home ice cream makers and freezers.
Alcohol (ethanol) reduces the freezing point of frozen desserts significantly, about 7.4 times the same weight of sucrose. So only add a small amount, if too much, your frozen dessert will not freeze and harden and will remain syrupy. Using dry ice, liquid nitrogen or a commercial low temperature freezer allows the preparation of frozen desserts with higher content of alcohol due to their lower temperatures.
Ice Cream Base Recipes
These recipes make about 1 quart but it depends on the % overrun.
Thick and Decadent
|Ingredient||Weight (g)||% Total Weight|
|Ice Cream Stabilizer||2g||0.21%|
Rich and Balanced
This ice cream base recipe has a little lower fat content than the previous recipe but it is still rich.
|Ingredient||Weight (g)||% Total Weight|
|Ice Cream Stabilizer||3g||0.3%|
Good Flavor Release with Low Sweetness and Chewyness
This is a good ice cream base to be used as a garnish. Its relatively low fat and low sugar content will result in a good flavor release (clean and instant rather than lingering) that is not thick and chewy. Based on a recipe from Heston Blumenthal.
|Ingredient||Weight (g)||% Total Weight|
|Skimmed Milk Powder||40g||4%|
|Ice Cream Stabilizer||2g||0.31%|
Ice Cream Preparation
1- Heat the milk and cream with the ice cream stabilizer in a pot to 82 °C (180 °F) to ensure hydration of the stabilizer. Stir constantly. Put aside and let the temperature drop to 60 °C (140 °F) before mixing with the egg yolks so they don't coagulate.
TIP: The ChefAlarm thermometer is great for this. It easily attaches to the pot with the clip and you can set a High and Low temperature alarms so you are free to work on something else without worrying about going above or below the desired temperature.
2- While you wait for the temperature to drop, whisk the egg yolks and sugar for 5 minutes in a bowl.
3- Slowly pour the heated milk and cream over the egg yolk mix while stirring.
4- Return the new mixture to the pot and heat to 70 °C (160 °F) to cook and pasteurize the egg yolks. Maintain the mixture at this temperature for 20 minutes. Stir constantly. It is very important not to go over this temperature or your eggs will start coagulating and the resulting ice cream will have a stronger egg flavor. If you have a Sous Vide immersions circulator, you can place the contents in a sealed bag and heat it in a bath set at 70 °C (160 °F) for 20 minutes.
5- Pass the mixture through a fine sieve and cool it in an ice bath.
6- Refrigerate overnight. We are aging the ice cream to obtain a more stable foam during the churning process.
7- Transfer the mixture to an ice cream maker and follow the instructions of your equipment. If your ice cream maker permits, cool it to -5C (23 F). You can always use the dry ice method to obtain great quality ice cream at home. Store in the freezer to harden until serving time.