How is Ice Cream Made: Everything You Need to Know
An old favorite for kids and adults alike, ice cream has been well-liked for centuries. Despite its long-standing popularity, ice cream production and ingredients have stayed pretty much the same. Simple enough to be enjoyed with the kids and unique enough to serve at a dinner party, fresh ice cream still has the ability to bring people together.
Below, we go in depth with the traditional ice cream recipe, taking you – step-by-step – through how ice cream is made. We’ll also discuss the many technological advancements which have made this simple dish so accessible, to so many and how all of this has led to the best tasting ice cream mixtures that we see, today.
What Is Ice Cream Made Of?
No matter what additional ingredients may be added to the most modern forms of ice cream, all types still have the same, basic list of items. Where ice was originally used, the more common format in modern society is to use a freezing appliance which cools the mixture – apart from that, most of the ingredients remain the same.
Cream is easily the largest and most important factor in making ice cream. Indeed, those frozen treats you may sometimes have, which is not considered to be made up with the correct percentage of cream as part of its mixture must – by law – be referred to as a “frozen dairy dessert”. This is to protect the consumer from poor consistencies and tastes, as well as to ensure a greater level of transparency between manufacturer and buyer.
Full fat or an equally heavy milk (with alternatives including those catering for lactose or gluten intolerance or other dietary requirements including soy, cashew or almond milk, for example) is next on the list of ingredients. The addition of milk is an important part of the process, as it leads to a smoother texture and better mouthfeel.
Naturally, most modern ice creams will also need a good level of glucose, which usually comes in the form of sugar. You may also find that fresh fruits or any syrup is a good source of glucose, as these naturally sweet ingredients can add further flavor and sweetness to your ice cream.
A lot of home-based recipes may also call for some additional flavorings, such as vanilla essence or require the use of eggs to help bind the ice cream, since this can be tough when not using factory machinery.
A Brief History of Ice Cream
The earliest known stories surrounding ice cream hail back from as far as 500 BCE. It was believed that frozen desserts of rose water and vermicelli was mixed with saffron and other spices before being served to royalty. Similarly, Ancient Greeks used to mix snow with honey and fruits to create a tasty treat for themselves in the summer. Of course, these days, the ingredients listed here would not allow for this particular recipe to be referred to as ice cream – but it is very telling of how we used ice and sugars to create a tasty after-dinner snack for ourselves.
The first recipe which included milk and primarily dairy products came from the Chinese, who used snow and saltpetres over containers holding milk and rice. The temperature fell to below freezing and the mixture was then recovered and either sweetened with fruit or eaten straight away.
The fruit and snow selections were the most popular choices in cold desserts until, it is believed, Marco Polo returned from China with details of the classic ice cream we know and love, today – although there is no real evidence supporting this claim. At the same time, it is also believed that the Italian Duchess Catherine de’Medici brought her ice cream recipes with her when she married the French Prince, Henry II. Meanwhile, Charles I of England was believed to be so enamored with the frozen treat that he paid his chef a considerable sum to keep the recipe a secret from the rest of the country.
However, it wasn’t until the late 17th century that recipes actually began to emerge in Europe. In England, the first recipe was published in 1718 and recommended that ice be mixed with cream, before being used with traditional lemonade and fruits. In America, recipes weren’t published for ice cream until around 1744.
It was actually the Quakers who introduced ice cream to North America, soon after which confectioners began to sell the sweet indulgence in the main cities that had become established at the time. One merchant showed receipts and paperwork indicating that George Washington had spent $200 on ice cream in one summer, while also recording Thomas Jefferson’s 18-step recipe for his own, personal ice cream.
The popularity of ice cream boomed as hand-cranked freezers were invented in both England and the US in the mid-19th century. It was around this time that it also became more affordable for the common folk to be able to partake in ice cream – before this, it had been held as a delicacy only for those with enough money to enjoy fresh ice.
The real change in accessibility, however, came with the use of cheaper refrigerators. With the invention of the modern-day fridge came a huge boost in ice cream parlors and smaller cafes and eateries, who could now present ice cream from larger companies. There was also a massive reduction in costs when the soft ice cream was introduced en masse. This ice cream used a greater level of air during production, making the ice cream much softer and more malleable, while also greatly reducing the price of ice cream as the ingredients lasted longer and spread farther.
Still, no matter the production, level of whipping or differences between brands, all ice cream still holds the major factors which made it so popular in the beginning. It serves wonderfully as a cold treat, no matter where you’re from or what your preferences are – making it one of the oldest and most widespread and appreciated desserts of all time.
How Is Ice Cream Made?
The ice cream manufacturing process has changed significantly over time. Thanks to the rise of medical, health and safety knowledge and laws, the processes have changed significantly, to better suit mass production. The first changes are due to the increased reliance on machinery, to give precise measurements and counter any dangerous germs or bacteria, while the second selection of changes over the years are based around increased speed and efficiency.
Nevertheless, there are some strong similarities between the two, which you can see in more detail below, where the preparation and production are compared and contrasted.
Ice Cream Preparation
- In history
In the past, there was little to no preparation required for making frozen treats. Since they would often use snow or ice to create these desserts, there was a limited time in which they could create a delectable dessert for eating. As we can see from the history given, above, ice cream and similar treats were often made over a short span of time, requiring workers to go up to the mountains to grab ice before flavoring it.
The most common form of freezing during these times, however, came from the Chinese. They would use saltpetre and snow together, to create a freezing base. This combination of minerals caused the container for their treats to fall well below freezing, effectively making a longer-lasting variety of ice cream.
However, no matter the origins, folks in history all had to make frozen desserts in the same way – by searching for ice and chipping away until it became small enough to improve the overall texture of the dessert. Often, it would be cut from less hygienic places, such as frozen ponds or lakes, and would even be stored underground, in order to maintain the temperature for as long as possible.
These days, a focus on health and safety is priority. Thus, one of the first steps to preparing for ice cream production is to have all of the machinery and cookware sterilized. It also means that the milk used during production needs to be pasteurized (heated at a high temperature to destroy any bad bacteria lurking there). This is especially true when eggs are also used in the recipe, as these can lead to salmonella contamination if left completely untreated.
Ice as an ingredient is usually completely negated – with manufacturers opting instead to use the water in the recipe, which freezes during production and is mixed to create a smoother texture. Similarly, all the ingredients can be purchased and shipped from anywhere in the world – which often means that the only factor taken into consideration is the cost of goods and transport.
Ice Cream Production
- In history
While mass production did not exist for ice cream in ancient history, it became more commonly widespread and known throughout the world during the 17th and 18th centuries. The latter of these is where recipes began to spring up and our understanding of the history of ice cream production becomes more well known.
Before the age of modern refrigeration, making ice cream was long and hard. As well as sourcing the ice, it needed to be chipped into small enough pieces to create a smooth enough texture. This also meant that flavors would often be watered down, or even negated through the use of storage techniques, which would be very unhealthy by today’s standards.
This ice would then be mixed with salt in a large bowl, either by hand or – later – by using a hand crank. It was long, tough and often a very tedious task for very little reward, unless purchased by the upper classes, who could afford the work required. Thus, the production was suitable only for those with the most disposable income and not given to those who were poor.
Thanks to advancements in technology, we no longer have to process ice from a frozen lake at the bottom of our friend’s garden. Instead, industrial fridges allow for longer-lasting ice after being cut or made, and stored until it is needed. However, even without the fridges themselves, we are now able to create fresh ice cream using freezing containers, which can cool up to 300-gallon vats of cream and flavorings at any one time.
There is a seemingly unlimited number of different flavor combinations available – with Baskin Robbins boasting of having made over 1,000 different varieties on their own. There has also been more adventurous techniques introduced in recent years. Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal has been known to create ice cream using dry ice, for example, while others use liquid nitrogen (although this technique was originally suggested in the 19th century by Agnes Marshall).
Extra ingredients are also commonly suggested, including the use of custard which is folded into cream before being frozen. There are even common household recipes which allow for smaller ice cream blocks being ready in as little as four hours (depending on the size of the ice cube). As we can see, the lower costs and access to ingredients has allowed for a greater variety of different ice cream types and flavors to crop up almost anywhere – even in the average, domestic kitchen.
These days, ice cream is so readily available that we very rarely need to make it for ourselves, as the cost of buying it from a supermarket is so low. That said, you can easily make ice cream at home for your friends, family and loved ones without having to spend a great deal. Don’t be afraid to check out some simple recipes and have some fun with this ever-popular dessert that is loved by all – you never know, you may create the next big thing in the frozen dessert world.