Different Ice Cream Base Recipes

Ice cream bases are the most important part of making ice cream. In fact, when you read ice cream recipes, they’re generally all quite similar: base + flavor of choice. Master your base, and all your ice creams will be delicious, until you start trying to make weird roasted eggplant ice cream anyway. Luckily, bases are quite easy, and you can’t really go wrong with sugar and cream! Let’s start churning.

Bailey's Irish Cream ice cream scoop
Homemade Bailey’s Ice Cream, using a custard base. (Click here for the recipe!)

Custard Base:
A custard base uses egg yolks as an emulsifier to make the ice cream richer and creamier. It also makes the ice cream a bit softer and easier to scoop directly out of the freezer, which is quite nice. The general recipe looks like this:

1-½ cups heavy cream (33-36% fat)
1-½ cups whole milk
¾ cup sugar
4-6 egg yolks

The difficulty with a custard base lies in the preparation. You have to heat it to about 170F (76C), and then immediately cool it, ideally in an ice bath. The heat is important- it safely kills any bacteria in the yolks and also thickens the mixture to a nice custard- but heat it too much and you have scrambled eggs in your ice cream, albeit delicious sugary scrambled eggs. A kitchen thermometer is very helpful when making a custard base. It’s also nice to strain it before or after cooling to remove any little eggy bits. We recommend this thermometer and this strainer. They are the ones we own; they are cheap and reliable and make the whole process significantly easier.

The hotter you heat the custard base, the thicker the mixture gets, and the stronger the custard flavor as well, so feel free to experiment a bit and see what you like best. For us, 170F (76C) is just about perfect.

David Lebovitz, a professional cook, pastry chef, and ice cream connoisseur, loves custard bases and we use and recommend his cookbook, The Perfect Scoop. We learned a lot from it.

The Good: Rich, creamy custard flavor. Easy to scoop.
The Not-so-good: Takes some time, requires precise heating.
Best for: Heavier, richer flavors. Maple, pumpkin, chocolate, eggnog…
Not recommended for: Fruit flavors or pure vanilla, though it makes an excellent french vanilla

Philadelphia Style Base:
Philadelphia style bases use dairy only, meaning, no eggs or egg yolks. In general, these are easier to make, but they will freeze harder and a little icier. The recipe is as simple as this:

1-½ cups heavy cream (33-36% fat)
1-½ cups whole milk
¾ cup sugar
Emulsifier (optional)

Click here for our Stout Ice Cream Recipe made with a Philadelphia-style base.

Philadelphia style base ingredients
Ingredients for a Philadelphia style base from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

The emulsifier is optional and takes a little more time, in return for making your ice cream less icy. Jeni Bauer of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams has an extremely popular and delicious Philadelphia-style base, and she uses cornstarch and cream cheese in her recipes for emulsifying. You’ll see this base as inspiration in many of our recipes, including this Stout Ice Cream Recipe we developed. We recommend her cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home as well, it has some very unique and delicious flavors.

Personally, we like xanthan gum for being the easiest emulsifier, just blend ¼ tsp (1 gram) into the above base. We’ll be writing a blog post exploring different kinds of emulsifiers soon!

It’s important to note that some recipes change the ratio of cream to milk, and will often have 2 cups of cream to 1 cup of milk. Feel free to experiment and see what you like best!

The Good: Easier to make, lighter
The Not-so-good: A bit icier and denser, though you might not even notice
Best for: Lighter flavors, especially fruit, vanilla, and tea flavors

Ben & Jerry’s Base:
Ben & Jerry’s is a very popular ice cream brand in the United States. They opened their first ice cream shop in Vermont and offered a percentage discount in the winter for every degree it was below freezing. They are famous for their “superpremium” ice cream.

2 large eggs
2 cups heavy cream (33-36% fat)
1 cup whole milk
¾ cup sugar

The eggs are whisked for two minutes until light and fluffy, then the sugar and the rest of the ingredients are whisked in.

What’s very interesting about this base is that raw eggs are used, which is a potential cause for concern. One option is to buy pasteurized eggs. I personally just buy and use the best quality eggs I can find, usually from the local farmer’s market.
I love this base because it is ultra quick and easy and also delicious! The whole eggs give the ice cream a very nice texture and consistency. This recipe makes a very smooth ice cream.
Ben and Jerry do have a cookbook, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Dessert Book, but we don’t really recommend it, we didn’t learn much from it and we don’t think the recipes are anything out of the ordinary.

The Good: Easy to make
The Not-so-good: Raw eggs
Best for: All flavors. My favorite is chocolate.

Alternative Bases:
There are plenty of alternative bases for certain flavors of ice cream. I’ve used cream cheese for a “cheesecake” ice cream, roasted bananas, and more. We’ll get some recipes up which feature some of these alternative bases. Coconut milk is also a delicious option and a great vegan solution, which we’ll write about in another post.

You can’t go wrong with cream, milk, and sugar! No matter which base you pick, your ice cream will be delicious, and far superior to anything store-bought. We’d definitely recommend trying them all; make a recipe with each type of base and see which you like best. Our personal favorite is the custard base (though it does depend on the flavor and our mood), but it’s also the most work. Happy churning!

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