Monday, April 11, 2011

Ice cream, you scream, we all scream for that frozen stuff with different names...

Dear Tricia, As I was walking home from work today I started to think of a few of my favorite summer things since we're finally getting warm-ish weather.  One of those things is ice cream.  Yet, FroYo and frozen custard seem to be the new rage.  So what's the real difference between ice cream, frozen custard, frozen yogurt and gelato?  They are all delicious to me but I'm sure at least one of them has to be better for my waistline than others.  Right?

Ahhh... the dilemma of chefs making things and words too complicated.  I run into it often.  So many vocabulary words, so little patience, and so many brain freezes.  

To answer your question about some being better for your waistline... well, yes and no.  But we'll get to that in a minute.  After much research (and this includes going back almost 10 years to my culinary school notes on Frozen Desserts, taught by a very stuffy chef with a very stuffy mustache who had NO sense of humor.  I'm pretty sure that there should be an awesome sense of humor prerequisite when it comes to rocking a 'stache, but this somehow this guy got by without anyone noticing.) And after going through my notes, my Bible (also known as Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking), the ever-so helpful, yet stylistically outdated The Professional Pastry Chef, and the FDA's standard on ice cream classifications (Yes, they have one), I think I have found the information to clear up your frozen dilemma.

First let me describe how those frozen desserts are made.  You start off by making a base- this is your mixture of dairy and sugar and flavorings (and in some cases, eggs, which we'll get to).  You cook up this delicious, flavorful concoction over the stove, and then you let it cool down and you put it in an ice cream freezer.  An ice cream freezer churns the base as it freezes it.  So as its churning, its incorporating air into the base and making it grow larger in volume.  Incorporating air helps make the ice cream creamy.  Little air bubbles find their way in between all of the little fat bubbles and make it nice and fluffy and smooth and delicious.  (And all of those other lovely adjectives)  This is called "overrun."  Overrun makes the base turn into a much larger amount, because its incorporating so much air into it.  You can overrun the ice cream as much as 100%, which means your base would double in volume.  In slow person terms, that means it gets twice as big.  For example, a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds.  But a gallon of ice cream can weigh as little as 4.5 pounds because that's how much air has been incorporated into it.  (Legally.  By the FDA.  I swear- they regulate this stuff.  Big Brother is SO watching when you eat your feelings at night.) This is also part of the difference between the 4 frozen desserts in question.

Ice cream is made with heavy cream, milk, and egg yolks.  (And sugar.  Sugar is in everything, especially in what we're talking about today) It's made the same way I just mentioned- the base is cooked, cooled, and then churned.  The overrun of ice cream is usually at least 20%.  Ice cream that gets super overrun (like 100%) is typically crappier ice cream.  (read: the store brand stuff that my neighbor's mom used to buy us in 1988.)  That also means it's going to be a little less flavorful.  Soft serve ice cream is a perfect example of overrun ice cream: it's light, super soft and aerated, and pretty mellow on the taste buds.  The higher quality ice creams, like Ben and Jerry's, Hagen Daaz, that $8 per pint local stuff at fancy stores, etc. aren't really overrun- they're more dense and a lot more flavorful.  And Big Brother does not make ice cream companies put the percentage of overrun on their labels.

Frozen Custard is super similar to ice cream, but it has less overrun (so it's a little more dense) and more eggs.  This is another thing the FDA regulates.  The finished product must contain no less than 1.4% egg yolks (Ice cream typically has less eggs that that.) and those are the only differences.  Oh, that and frozen custard is typically served a little warmer, so it's softer.  Not much else, so don't be blown away by the fancy name.

Gelato is a tricky one to start bragging about less fat.   It has less fat than ice cream because it traditionally is made with milk and not cream, but it also adds more eggs to keep the texture creamy.  It also has less overrun than ice cream, typically less than 15%. (And if I'm wrong on that percentage, blame Chef Stuffy 'Stache.  He's the one who graded me on it.)  Just to go over what we've already talked about, less overrun = denser, less airy.   Got it? 

Last but not least, frozen yogurt is just how it sounds.  The base is made of yogurt, (or milk and a fermenting agent to turn it into yogurt), and milk, and typically no eggs.  It's the lowest fat content out of the bunch, and awesome if you live in Lactose Intolerant City, Population: Me.  No seriously, I DIG on the frozen yogurt.  I once went to Yummilicious every single day after work for a like a week straight, and then tried to hide it from people, like I didn't have a problem or something. 

So, when it comes to which is better for your girlish figure, frozen yogurt wins with gelato not being far behind, and frankly the other 2 aren't really that much different from each other.  And if you really want to impress your friends with this new found knowledge of frozen treats, check out the FDA's guidelines on how ice creams are classified and can be labeled.  It's terribly dry reading, but fascinating to know that our government paid someone to decide that stuff.  I love America. 

Now how about that movie up above starring Ron Howard's creepy brother, Clint?  How did I miss that one when it came out in '95?!!?


Anonymous said...

Population 2 including your fellow lactose loving but intolerant cousin Hannah.

Tricia Lewis, author said...

We should form a club! We can have matching uniforms and a secret password: Lactaid.