The Great Ice Cream Debate

May 22nd, 2009 by katie

There are two different kinds of ice cream.  There are French style ice creams which involve freezing a custard base and there are Philadelphia style ice creams which consist of just a frozen milk base.  I have always, always made custard based recipes.  I like the rich, creamy texture and, frankly, it’s ice cream.  Shouldn’t an indulgence be an indulgence?  However, I see lots and lots of ice cream recipes in the Philadelphia style-with no egg yolks-and they sound fantastic.  Then I notice-gasp! no egg!-and I always hesitate.  They will be too icy, I think.  They won’t be creamy enough.  They won’t have the same flavorful punch.

There must be something worthwhile about them though.  My ice cream idol David Lebovitz has as many delicious looking Philadelphia style recipes as he does custard-style recipes (or so it seems at least to me).  So they must hold their own.  So what is it?  What are your opinions? Is ice cream is ice cream is ice cream?  Do the Philadelphia style ice creams have something on custard bases that I don’t know about?

I had a craving to make chocolate ice cream but I didn’t have any high-quality chocolate laying about so I picked Alton Brown’s recipe since it called for cocoa powder instead.  Mr. Brown and I have a long relationship, so I was a little hesitant.  Turns out I sabotaged the recipe-twice!-by trying to rush it and not waiting for my ice cream maker to be frozen for 24 hours.  Once I properly prepared it, the result was perfect: chocolately and rich.

Chocolate Ice Cream

makes 2 quarts, prep 2 min, cook 10 min, adapted from Alton Brown
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 3 cups half and half
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  1. In a large sauce pan combine cocoa and one cup of half and half.  Stir to combine then add rest of half and half and cream.
  2. Scald the cream mixture (heat it just until you see bubbles forming at the edges), remove from heat.
  3. In a mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar to combine.
  4. Temper the egg yolks by slowly adding the hot cream, a few drops at a time, stirring constantly.  This is a slow process, don’t rush it or you will get eggy ice cream.
  5. Once you have whisked in about 1/3 cup of hot cream into egg mixture, add all of the egg back into the sauce pan.
  6. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thermometer reads 170°-175° or mixture is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  7. Pour custard into a container and allow to cool at room temperature. Stir in the vanilla and continue cooling.
  8. Once room temperature, place covered into the fridge and chill several hours or overnight.
  9. Process in your ice cream maker according to the instructions.
  10. Freeze soft serve ice cream for several hours until hard.

I also wanted to make some mint chocolate chip ice cream using real mint.  I had this recipe from alexandra’s kitchen bookmarked FOREVER so I gave it a try.  The flavor from the real mint is incredible.  Out of three adults we had one not minty enough, one perfectly minty, and one feel it was way too minty.  Out of two kid testers one liked it best and one didn’t.  All however agreed: it goes wonderfully with a scoop of chocolate to balance it out.

Fresh Mint Chip Ice Cream

prep 2 min, cook 10 min (+30 min steeping time), adapted from alexandra’s kitchen
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped dark chocolate, I used Scharffen Berger
  1. Combine cream, half and half, and mint leaves in a sauce pan.
  2. Scald the mixture (see above), cover and set aside to steep for 30 minutes.
  3. In a bowl, whisk egg yolks and sugar.
  4. Strain mint leaves out of cream and temper the egg yolks slowly (see above).
  5. Once you have whisked in about 1/3 cup of hot cream into egg mixture, add all of the egg back into the sauce pan with a pinch of salt.
  6. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thermometer reads 170°-175° or mixture is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
  7. Pour custard into a container and allow to cool at room temperature.
  8. Once room temperature, place covered into the fridge and chill several hours or overnight.
  9. Process in your ice cream maker according to the instructions.
  10. Once ice cream is processed to “soft-serve” consistency stir in chopped chocolate by hand and freeze until hard.

Some ice cream tips: go here to see what it looks like “to coat the back of the spoon.”  Also, the best way to separate eggs is to crack them into your hand and allow the white to dribble through your fingers but if you are squiemish about handling raw eggs I like this style of egg separator.

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Posted in Desserts

10 Responses

  1. Memoria

    YUM! Now I can use my good chocolate for other desserts!

  2. sweetbird

    I have actually only ever made ice cream once, because I just got my first ice cream maker last week for my birthday. Considering that my first batch was a frozen Greek yogurt with honey, I don’t really have the chops to decide between the two styles.

    I will admit that the Philadelphia style you speak of brings back memories from my childhood of me and my siblings trying to make our own ice cream. I just had some homemade vanilla at my favorite French restaurant not too long ago that employed this style of recipe and it was quite nice.

  3. Robin Sue

    Definitely custard style. Always so rich and delicious. I was happy to see Alton’s recipe here, I made his chocolate ice cream last summer and everyone thought it the best they ever had. His Vanilla is good too. I find the Philly style too icey instead of creamy. Great post! Will have to try the mint some time.

  4. Mrs. L

    I have yet to ever get out my ice cream maker but I’m determined to do that this year (and use the Lebovitz book).
    We have a “custard ice cream” shop near us and I love the stuff. I guess I’d go that route.

  5. jo

    WE made chocolate coconut milk ice cream on Memorial Day, and it was easy, creamy and declicious. It was such a nice surprise and option to get away from the dairy!

  6. icecreamfreaks

    I love coming up with my own ice cream recipes at home. What I have found is that I prefer the Custard Style ice creams over the Philadelphia Style.

    Why? Well, even though it takes less time and is easier to make Philadelphia Style, without the addition of eggs it’s just too hard to get the texture right.

    It either ends up being too creamy and leaves a coating on the tongue or, with less cream, it becomes too icy.

    For me, adding egg yolks does the trick. I end up with a rich, creamy, smooth ice cream that just hits the spot.

    If you look at most of the store bought brands, they have added thickeners and stabilizers to get the texture right. There is also much more air in manufactured ice creams as opposed to homemade ice cream.

    Your ice cream pictures look delicious, by the way.

  7. David

    The best, and richest, vanilla ice cream on earth is Philadelphia style with flecks of real vanilla throughout the ice cream (use Tahitian vanilla beans as they are the rarest and finest vanilla beans). I can also state categorically that Philadelphia style, made from nothing but heavy cream and sugar, is in no way whatsoever icy, as others have suggested. The frozen cream is in my opinion even richer than the French frozen egg custard that replaces a portion of cream with milk and eggs.

    BTW, Philadelphia style does not contain ANY milk or eggs. A mixture of 2 parts cream and 1 part milk with raw egg is called country style (or American or NY style), which is distinct from Philadelphia style. Furthermore, country style produces some excellent ice cream as well. Country style is the style used at Ben & Jerry and Coldstones (they don’t make frozen custards and their ice cream isn’t icy). Philadelphia style is so rich that some people prefer the less rich country style. Plus a premium quality country style ice cream makes a perfect base for adding mix-ins like brownies, cookie dough, whole cherries, etc.

  8. Josh

    Awesome, thanks for posting this Alton adaptation, it’s one of my favs! I would like to point out though, that 1 1/2 cups of sugar is quite a bit more than Alton’s recipe calls for. His uses 9 ounces of sugar, which is a lot closer to 1 1/8 cups. And some people even think his 9 ounces is too sweet, like me. I prefer 8 ounces, which is right at 1 cup.

  9. Jonathon

    This is the best ice cream we have ever tasted. I have always loved chocolate almond, but its hard to find with whole almonds. So we added one cup whole almonds and one vanilla bean. Will never purchase store bought ice cream again. Thanks…..

  10. IceCreamLover77

    @David – I think we may have two different definitions of the word “rich” as it pertains to dessert. While I love all forms of ice cream, including Philadelphia style, I disagree that Philly style is “the richest”. You’re essentially saying that the combination of “cream and sugar” is more rich than “cream and sugar and egg yolks”. That would be like saying sweetened milk is richer than custard, which again, completely goes against my definition of “rich”. And as for Philly style ice cream not being icy…while it’s possible that Philly style when made perfectly is not icy, homemade Philly style has a much greater chance of turning out icy when not done perfectly. The addition of eggs in custard style ice cream (like the recipes above) gives you a buffer that allows a much greater margin of error, virtually eliminating the chance for ice crystals to form.

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