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Discover the Many Delicious Types of Frozen Desserts

Get chummy with the whole family of frozen dairy and fruit treats, and you’ll have a wide range of dessert options to fit any occasion. They’re all guaranteed crowd-pleasers.

| August/September 2013

  • Frozen custard relies on simple, whole ingredients.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • Cook the custard until thick.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • Churn the custard until soft-frozen.
    Photo By Tim Nauman
  • Temper in the freezer for a few hours before serving to make it firm enough to scoop.
    Photo By Tim Nauman

Good cream is tasty all on its own — in frozen form, it’s downright irresistible. The same is true of fresh fruit. The best ice cream and the best frozen fruit desserts are pristinely simple in their ingredients.

Many commercial frozen desserts contain stabilizers and thickeners to enhance texture and body, preservatives for extended shelf life, and low-quality, industrial ingredients such as milk powder and corn syrup. It wasn’t always so. When ice cream was first introduced to the world in the 17th century, recipes called for cream, sweetener and whatever additional flavors were desired. The transition to an industrialized U.S. food system led to an emphasis on consistency, texture and volume — and, of course, additives.

Some modern ice cream artisans are ushering in a return to frozen-dessert purity. Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in New York City makes ice creams with hormone- and antibiotic-free ingredients, mostly from small producers in the Hudson Valley.

In Columbus, Ohio, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams also makes an extraordinarily pure treat. Its website boasts: “Every single thing we put in our ice cream is legit. Generic chemist-built ice cream bases and powdered, astronaut-friendly gelato mixes? No, ma’am.”

The popularity of these two companies proves that making better ice cream pays off. (Find artisanal ice cream at I Scream, You Scream Find Artisan Ice Cream!) You can do this at home, as well. Gather an ice cream maker (manual or electric) and the freshest ingredients you can find: milk and cream from pastured cows; eggs from pastured hens; and local, seasonal fruits and herbs. You’ll find recipes for all the types of desserts described at the end of this article. Other sources are Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer and The Ultimate Frozen Dessert Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

The Science of Frozen Desserts

Cream and fruit frozen by themselves are rock-solid. The addition of sugar softens the mixture, but reduces its freezing point. Additional water (or the water present in the ingredients) helps ice crystals form, which give the finished delicacy its structure. The Culinary Institute of America’s textbook on frozen desserts explains that the first role of sugar is to sweeten, and the second role is to lower the freezing point to about 14 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

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