Buying too many ice cream books is one of the job hazards here at Underbelly. To help save your valuable time and money and bookshelf real estate, we offer the following highly opinionated recommendations. These are tailored to our typical readers: enthusiasts, pros, and aspiring pros who are familiar with the basics, and want more.
Ice Cream, 7th Edition, Goff+Hartel
Douglas Goff is possibly the most famous name in ice cream science, up there with Drs. Cesar Vega and Michael Mullen. This book is the reference work that every process engineer at an ice cream factory has on her shelf, and is probably the fist expensive, toe-breaking text book required by every university ice cream science program. Nevertheless, it offers greater breadth than depth, which positions it primarily as an introductory text or technical reference. It’s also aimed solidly at industrial production. For artisanal ice cream, you’ll have to skim through dense chapters to find useful information. Considering the price and immensity, this one is worth finding at a library, but I wouldn’t recommend buying it. You can get a taste for free with the online version, The Ice Cream eBook, courtesy of the University of Guelph.
The Science of Ice Cream, C. Clarke
Chris Clarke. Same target audience as the Goff and Hartel book, but much more condensed, at 200 pages. Worth a look if you find it at library.
Frozen Food Science and Technology, Judith A. Evans.
A book with a scope much broader than ice cream, and a scientific focus much deeper than what you need to make ice cream, this book might nevertheless appeal to your inner geek if you’re trying to model a thermal process or understand the behavior of ice crystals. Most people will probably choose to leave this one at the library.
I Segreti del Gelato, Angelo Covitto
This is an excellent textbook aimed at gelato production. It’s bilingual, with the main text in Italian, and smaller-type English translations; I find it’s a little slow finding my way around in English. Corvito defines gelato as lower-fat ice creams, served at a relatively soft consistency. This constitutes a stylistic bent, but the fundamentals are the same as with any ice cream, giving his book a broad appeal. Notable to anyone with more restricted ideas of what constitutes gelato, Corvitto includes both custard-based and non-custard-based formulas.
Corvitto’s introductory text on ingredients, theory, and technique is compact but very good. Compared with other professional ice cream book authors, I find that he does the best job of integrating the theoretical with the practical. His explanations are clear, and his formulas and analyses are laid out in a visually elegant manner, making everything easy to understand, modify, and scale. He makes thorough use of POD and PAC values (for mathematically estimating sweetness and hardness). He also introduces a simple method of compensating for flavor ingredients that increase hardness (chololates, nut pastes etc.). This kind of thinking should be standard, but is surprisingly rare even the world of professional ice cream making.
While Corvitto’s focus is gelato, with all the ambiguities attached to that label, his book will be useful to professionals and enthusiasts regardless of their chosen style.
Frozen Desserts, Francisco Migoya (Culinary Institute of America)
Typical CIA text book—introductory level for beginning pastry chefs. Much more breadth than depth; it covers a wide range of desserts beyond ice creams and sorbets, getting into granitas, semifredos, etc., and then into related components and plated desserts. I’m not convinced by some of the formulas in the book, and wonder if there’s some ghost writing and hurried editing at work here. Migoya is one of the best and most knowledgable pastry chefs in the world, but some of the basics here (like stabilizer formulas) are poor. I’d recommend this book as a supplement if you need an introduction to plated frozen desserts, with a scope beyond ice cream. There’s a fair amount of content concerning standard pastry components (glazes, sauces, compotes, meringues, savarins, financiers), although it’s far from thorough, and the recipes themselves are not organized in a very user-friendly manner. Aspiring pastry chefs will want a more solid reference for all of this.
The Perfect Scoop, David Lebovitz
This is a popular book, full of approachable beginner-level recipes for home ice cream makers. The base formulas are all standard homemade ice cream fare, and as such probably won’t be interesting to readers of this blog. The recipes include gram measurements (thank you!), a sadly rare concession to serious cooking in this level of book. Lebovitz’s flavor combinations are interesting. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but flavors are all well-balanced, and some of his more original ideas are worth borrowing or riffing on. This makes the book worth checking out of the library, even if just to write down flavor ideas from the recipe names or make notes on flavor ingredient ratios.
Hello My Name is Ice Cream, Dana Cree
I’d been hearing about this book for a while, and finally got my hands on a copy (it was out of print for months, during which Amazon added weeks to the delivery time whenever I checked).
The suspense recently ended and I’m very pleasantly surprised. Dana Cree knows ice cream, and does a much friendlier, laid back job of explaining advanced topics to beginners than I’ll have the patience for. She even manages to sell her audience on stabilizers without calling anyone names. Maybe this is a Midwestern character trait? Hello is solidly a home cookbook, but it gently (if insistently) asks readers to up their game. Recipes are in metric weights, as all recipes should be. She offers several stabilizer options, from simple and accessible to roll-you-own raw ingredients to just using a commercial formula. And she’s unique among ice cream cookbook authors in her understanding of fat content—she varies it depending on the flavor, to give the appropriately intense flavor release.
The book isn’t perfect. Cree introduces the concept of using different sugars to control sweetness and freezing point depression, but doesn’t use these powers as effectively as she might; the recipes are all too sweet. She introduces the idea of adding milk solids for all the textural benefits, but then is shy about implementing it; most of the recipes would benefit from more dry milk. Some of the technical information goes beyond what the book’s intended audience is likely to understand, and some contains inaccuracies, or is made more confusing than necessary. For example, she invents the term “destabilizers” to describe one of the functional properties of ice cream emulsifiers. But no one else uses this term, and the ingredients that perform this function are already in the mix serving other functions. I appreciate the effort here, but think this would confuse more advanced students of ice cream, and fly right over the heads of the intended audience. But these are very, very minor quibbles.
Cree more than makes up for this with features like the appendix, “Ratios, or How Math Will Help You Make Your Own Ice Cream Recipes.” It’s a basic introduction to formula analysis and balancing, and probably too much work for the typical reader … but it drives home the point that there’s a reason behind everything in a good recipe. And that if you’re willing to work it out, you can understand the reasons and put them to use. This kind of thing warms my cockles.
The book’s greatest strength is these solid technical underpinnings, which Cree only waters down a bit for her popular audience. Cree is a pastry chef, with experience at Michelin 3-star restaurants The Fat Duck and Alinea. Her flavors and execution befit her impressive history.
This said, the flavors in the book are mostly simple and foundational (like the flavors I share in this blog). If you’re looking for the more adventurous side of her imagination, find her menus online (currently at Publican in Chicago). You’ll find ideas like “Hay, Burnt Honey, Blackberry, & Thyme.” Think about that flavor combination for a minute. Don’t mistake it for the next pumpkin spice chai, or some Brooklyn Food Truck hipster’s reach for novelty.
In summary: Cree’s book is excellent, deserving a spot on the shelves of beginner and fanatical ice cream makers alike.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home / Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts, Jeni Britton Bauer [updated 1-22-2020]
Jeni Britton Bauer knows as much about ice cream as anyone. Her industrial process is unique, drawing deeply from the science of milk protein denaturization to produce exquisitely textured, vibrant tasting, egg-free ice creams from local raw milk. Much like Dana Cree and David Lebovitz, she has a great imagination for flavors and a well-honed palate.
At Home, her first book, is the more interesting, as it puts her virtuosity with flavors on full display. She shares combinations such as Cucumber, Honeyedew & Cayenne; Roasted Strawberry & Buttermilk; Sweet Corn & Blackberry; Sweet Basil & Pine Nut; Ylang-Ylang, Clove & Honeycomb, along with many other standalone flavors and reimagined classics. Even if you don’t use her recipes, you might want to borrow her ideas or even just her inspiration.
Which is what I think this book is best for. It’s not great for learning ice cream theory or technique, or even, sadly, for getting great recipes. Considering Britton Bauer’s expertise and the magnificence of her flavors, this was both a surprise and disappointment. I wanted to like the book more. The problem is that Britton-Bauer, who should be teaching a master class on high-end ice cream, chose instead to teach at the grade school level. We get a dumbed-down intro to theory and technique, and a bunch of home-level recipes with a few improvements over the basics. And of course we get some of her awesome flavors. Many people will be thrilled with this. But I doubt many readers of this blog will be. None of which is to say that it’s a bad book; it just suffers in comparison to the book she might have written.
In the mythical book I’d like to see, Britton Bauer would trust her readers to be curious about theory and technique, as Dana Cree does. And like Cree’s book, it would offer the options of using serious stabilizing ingredients. In its current form, as a concession to label-friendliness and pantry-friendliness, the recipes use cornstarch and cream cheese. The former is standard, but a B-team player. The latter isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds; it’s a concentrated source of milk solids, and usually contains locust bean gum or carrageenans. But using cream cheese sacrifices the control you get from grownup ingredients. And I just don’t want to put cream cheese in my ice cream, unless I’m making cream cheese-flavored ice cream. The book also greatly simplifies the cooking process that Jeni developed so carefully for her commercial ice creams. As a result of all of this, you can expect that the book recipes will produce results quite different from the versions she’ll sell you. Finally, there are no weight measurements. Sadness.
One final complaint, at the risk of sounding like a broken record: the recipes are way too sweet. These flavor combinations would shine through so much better if the sweetness levels were cut by at least 20%. This is equally true for Jeni’s Splendid commercial ice creams.
For all these reasons, I recommend this book as a flavor reference, but not as a source of deeper knowledge or even of recipes.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts
This followup book emphasizes accompaniments and ice cream-centric plated desserts. There are plenty of home-style recipes for small cakes, tart shells, sauces, and the like. There are ice cream recipes, too, including flavors like Juniper & Lemon Curd; Cumin & Honey Butterscotch; and Wheatgrass, Pear, & Vinho Verde. As with the flavors in the first book, these are imaginative without being gimmicky. The emphasis, though, is on non-ice cream recipes. If you’re interested in simple recipes for home-style desserts like sundaes, you might enjoy this. For a more comprehensive and professional take on these topics, the CIA Frozen Desserts book, or a more comprehensive general pastry book, would make better choices.
Gelato Messina: The Recipes, Nick Palumbo [updated 1-22-2020]
Nick Palumbo presides over Australia’s most famous gelato empire. His business has grown rapidly, with talk of shops opening overseas in the near future (he’s mentioned Portland and Brooklyn—which hints at his esthetic). Palumbo is known for a scientific approach to formulation and especially for whimsical flavors. His book offers plenty of the latter.
But unfortunately there’s little useable science. His introductory chapter on the topic feels half-baked, with plenty of information that’s incomplete or even incorrect. There are, however, some interesting ideas about adjusting cooking temperature for different categories of ingredients. The explanations for these ideas aren’t entirely convincing, so we would have to try to verify them with side-by-side experiments. The formulas themselves are typical of commercial pastry chef textbooks. They’re more sophisticated than the home-cook-level versions in the Lebovitz Britton Bauer books, by way of including dextrose, skim milk powder, and serious stabilizers (commercial blend; no names or guidance given.). These ingredients allow a level of control over consistency, density, and texture that’s just not possible with standard home recipes.
All measurements are given in metric weights, because Mr. Palumbo does not hate us. Thank you, Nick! He does not take things to the level that Corvitto does in Il Segreti del Gelato, by enumerating percentages and POD and PAC values. If he did, it would be immediately evident that all these recipes are too sweet, as are just about everyone’s, so don’t think I’m singling him out here.
So on to the good part: the flavors. Palumbo does a nice job organizing the book into gelato subcategories, including white gelatos, egg based, chcolates, fruit based, yogurt based, nut based, booze, and sorbet. The breadth of the list illustrates an important idea that he makes in the introduction, which is that the world of gelato is vast and heterogenous. There are no legal constraints on the category; it’s in fact simply the Italian word for Frozen. You’d never know this from talking to most Italian chefs or gelatistas, each of whom claims sacred knowledge of the One True Authentic Italian Path. Which is just mind-numbingly annoying, especially since the chefs and gelatistas right down the street probably disagree with them on everything. Yes, Italian food is wonderful. Italian food pontification … not so much. Maybe an outsider from Down Under is best positioned to dodge the crossfire. But I digress.
Palumbo’s basic flavors include Zabajone; Coffee-Soaked Savoiardi; Rum Baba; Brioche; Rosso Antico & Marmalade; Prosciutto & Melon; Jack Daniels & Smoke [you might want to substitute a better and cheaper bourbon—there are many]. After covering these kinds of flavors and all the gelato standards, Palumbo shows his true colors in the chapter “Messina Madness.” I’ll give you flavor names and leave whatever they might signify to your imagination: Nacho Libre; The Boss’s Wife; Hansel, Hansel … He’s So Hot Right Now; Nicky Glasses; Randy Watson & The Sexual Chocolate Band Gelato. Less cryptic entries include Satay Gelato with Crispy Chicken Skin; Tomato coulis; and Salted Corn Chips. One of Palumbo’s secrets has been hiring chefs, often from savory kitchens, and giving them free reign. This mutually beneficial arrangement is in part responsible for this ever-growing portfolio of culinary hi jinx.
So who is this book for? Mostly for people who enjoy fun and transgressive flavors—whether you want to make Palumbo’s, or to be egged on to out-Palumbo him with your own. There are also plenty of basic gelato recipes here, but if those are your thing, you’d be better served by Corvitto’s book, which is a true professional text with a richer expanse of more reliable information.
In short, I recommend this book as a flavor reference, if these kinds of flavors speak to you. All of Palumbo’s flavors would be easy to adapt to other base formulas, if you’re not interested in using his exact recipes.
The Ice Cream E-Book. Short and sweet summary of key points from Douglas Goff’s research at the University of Guelph.
DairyScience.info. Dr. Michael Mullan and associates share a wealth of knowledge. The site offers for sale several well-designed formula balancing spreadsheets (choose #7 for artisanal ice cream).
- If you only have time or space for one book, get Dana Cree’s Hello My Name is Ice Cream.
- If you can get a second—or if you’re making ice cream commercially or plan to specialize in lighter Italian styles—get Corvito’s Segretti del Gelato.
- Consider Migoya’s Frozen Desserts for a broader range of frozen dessert topics.
Books worth borrowing, or buying for a larger library include Lebovitz, Briton-Bauer, and Palumbo (for flavor ideas) and Goff/Hartell (to seek answers to your more arcane questions).