It’s a fact: when it comes to most things of a culinary nature, the French have the Americans beat. Please don’t write me hate mail about this, but I’m just being a realist. [Ed. note: To step in here with an obligatory patriotic chant, “USA USA USA.”] Take ice cream for instance. I’m not ashamed to say that when it comes to my taste buds, so-called “French” ice cream trumps “American” ice cream any day.
If you are wondering what I mean, let me explain: “French” ice cream is custard-style ice cream. This is the rich stuff that is made with dairy, sugar, and egg yolks. The egg yolks make all the difference. They give this ice cream a denser, richer, more satiny appeal. Ice cream made in this style is also a slower melter because it has greater stability. But there are downsides, as with anything. French ice cream is little more fussy if you are following the traditional method of heating the dairy, tempering it into the eggs, and then cooking the mixture until it is thickened, followed by straining to remove any traces of unwanted scrambled eggs. (Because, really? Who wants scrambled eggs in their ice cream?) This yolky ice cream also isn’t your best pick for sharing the spotlight with another dessert component, as it is super rich on its own.
On the other hand, American ice cream, also known as Philadelphia ice cream (perhaps because the city was a leading ice cream manufacturer/home to Breyer’s and Bassett’s), will not give you the same luxurious mouthfeel as a custard-style ice cream. The lack of yolks also makes for a less stable ice cream that crystallizes more easily.
Now for the pros of Philly ice cream: It skips the eggs, you see, and therefore contains more air and water, making it less chewy and buttery. This may sound like a bad thing in comparison to our French friend, but these characteristics make it a lighter, and therefore better, pie or cake accompaniment. The eggless ice cream base also means that infused flavors can shine through better. And of course, it also contains less fat. Finally, from a kitchen standpoint, it’s a more streamlined and handsfree project: Because you don’t have to worry about tempering your eggs, you can even do everything in the microwave.
Now that you know the difference between these two ice cream styles (and I’ve almost convinced myself that Philadelphia ice cream is superior), check out this easy-as-pie recipe from Julia Moskin of The New York Times before the summer’s over.