I love ice cream of all kinds. I used to post a new ice cream here every Tuesday, and I called them “Ice Cream Tuesdays.”

As an introduction to those recipes, I’m sharing this All About Ice Cream post for people who are interested in learning about the different types of ice cream and a few examples from the site. Consider making ice cream as a specific pastry technique that many fine dining pasty chefs have to master.

I hope you find this information useful. Find all my ice cream recipes in the Ice Cream category.

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Two scoops of lemon ice cream in a pale blue bowl with a carton of heavy cream in the background and a cut lemon in the foreground.


It seems kind of silly to define “ice cream,” but there are actual guidelines that define types of ice cream and other frozen treats: gelato, Sicilian gelato, sherbet, sorbet, granita, ice milk, etc.

All are frozen desserts. On that, I think everyone can agree! But they differ in the amount of milk fat and the amount of air whipped into them, and how they’re frozen.

I think for home ice cream making purposes, a good definition of ice cream is a frozen dairy dessert made mainly of sweetened cream or a mixture of milk and cream and frozen in a churn to whip in air and keep the ice crystals small.

Note, most basic homemade ice cream will have a higher fat content than almost all store-bought, mass produced ice cream, mainly because many homemade recipes are based on all cream or other higher-fat dairy.

Premium, Super Premium, and More

In the United States, there are minimum fat requirements (and egg requirements) for various types of commercially available ice cream and ice cream-like desserts.

Ranked from highest fat percentage to lowest, they are:

  • Super-Premium: 14-16% butterfat
  • Premium: 12-14% butterfat
  • Ice Cream: At least 10% butterfat
  • Frozen Custard: At least 10% butterfat AND at least 1.4% egg yolks
  • Gelato: No FDA regulations, but generally 3-8% butterfat and churned at a lower speed so it gets less air whipped into it
  • Sorbet: No dairy and fat-free

Source: Ice Cream Geek July 23, 2009

The Main Types of Ice Cream-Type Desserts You Can Make at Home

Custard-based ice creams or “French” style ice creams contain eggs. (See my downloadable custard-based ice cream recipe and variations)


Philadelphia-style ice cream doesn’t use any eggs, so it’s a bit less rich and the flavors tend to be more pure since there is no egg to contribute its own flavor. These types of ice cream bases don’t necessarily need to be cooked, because they don’t contain eggs.


Gelato usually contains less fat and also less air than ice cream. This means that it’s a denser product with almost a chewy mouthfeel. For the most part, gelato is generally made with whole milk, either in part or entirely, and may contain eggs.


Sicilian gelato is made with a cooked milk base that is thickened with cornstarch. The starch helps to keep it “scoopable” even straight from the freezer. It also helps to thicken the base so it can hold more air without the addition of extra fat. It may or may not contain eggs.


Sherbet usually contains fruit juice and some dairy. Sorbet or sorbetto doesn’t contain any dairy at all.

Granita is usually made with sweetened fruit puree like sorbet, but it is allowed to freeze “still.” Once it is frozen, you scrape the surface with a fork so you end up with large, icy crystals that make a really refreshing summertime dessert, no churn needed.

No-Churn ice cream is usually made from a base formula of:

  • 1 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 cups (1 pint) of whipping cream

To that base, you can add almost any flavorings, swirls, or mix-ins you can think of. Nigella Lawson (or her grandmother) gets credit for putting a no-churn coffee ice cream dessert on the map just a few years ago, and since then, no churn ice cream is everywhere.

I love making no-churn ice cream. If you’re a fan, try my Andes mint chip ice cream or peppermint no churn ice cream.

NOTE that No-Churn ice cream is very fatty so it can be whipped to aerate. Consider whipping cream and sweetened condensed milk until thick and then adding some whole milk or half and half to cut the overall fat content.

More Examples:


I have 2 2 quart Cuisinart Ice Cream & Gelato makers that I really quite like. They’re the kind that have the inserts you store in the freezer. The insert stays still while the “dasher” spins, controlling crystallization and making up a creamy, soft-serve ice cream in about 20 minutes or so.

I have also used an old-fashioned electric ice cream churnI find them a bit messier to use because you have to deal with packing ice and salt around the canister for churning. The nice thing about them is that they will make up to a gallon of ice cream, so if you’re making it for a crowd, that’s the way to go.

There are no right or wrong kinds of churns. There’s only the kind you like the best. Old fashioned churns tend to be a bit cheaper, but you don’t have to store the cylinder in the freezer, so it doesn’t take up freezer space.

Also, you have to plan ahead to use the Cuisinart kind. If you don’t store your cylinder in the freezer, you’ll need to remember to put it in a good 24 hours before making ice cream. That’s why I just generally leave one in the freezer all the time.


If you have any questions about this post or recipe, I am happy to help.

Simply leave a comment here and I will get back to you soon. I also invite you to ask question in my Facebook group, Fearless Kitchen Fun.

If your question is more pressing, please feel free to email me. I should be back in touch ASAP, as long as I’m not asleep.

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