What Makes French Ice Cream Thicker Than Other Types

Not to be confused with the thick and creamy goodness that is Italian gelato, French ice cream is one of the most popular iterations of the frozen treat available. It's so popular in the U.S. that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has an official definition for what can and cannot be called French ice cream. Any frozen dessert that contains more than 1.4% egg yolk and 10% milk fat must bear this label. 

The reason French ice cream is so much thicker than its Italian and American counterparts is specifically due to the amounts of egg yolk and milk fat used in traditional recipes. The higher egg and fat content gives it its characteristic creaminess, while also making it richly flavored, smoother, and easier to scoop.

There are several makers of this style that take the egg and butterfat ratios to the extreme, including the Brooklyn-based ice cream brand Van Leeuwen. Furthermore, French-style ice cream is totally feasible to make at home. If you have the patience and freezer space, the frozen treat is not outside of your culinary reach. 

How to make French ice cream at home

Essentially, all French ice cream (crème glacée) begins life as a simple egg custard. Known primarily as crème anglaise, this is a method that dates back to the 17th century and is still widely used today. Using egg yolks, sugar, heavy cream, whole milk, and a little bit of salt, bring all the ingredients together over low heat, mixing gently but consistently until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Let it cool before mixing in flavorings, pouring it into a mold, and placing it in the freezer for several hours to set. You can also use an ice cream maker. 

The final result should be thick and delightfully creamy. You will notice the difference in texture between French and American ice cream, which is made without eggs. In the latter style, ice crystals tend to form in the ice cream because no eggs are present to emulsify and bind the ingredients together into a cohesive whole. 

As everyone's preferences are different, there is no better or worse way to make ice cream. Still, if you're looking for something that is rich, thick, and creamy, French ice cream is the way to go. You would be hard-pressed to find a style of ice cream that lives up to its name and more.